In 2020, Central America experienced one of the strongest hurricane seasons in recent years, with a total of 30 tropical storms, including 13 hurricanes and six mega-hurricanes. Particularly, Eta and Iota, both category 4 hurricanes, left in their wake destroyed communities and extensive damage in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, causing close to 1.5 million new displacements in Central America, according to statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC).
The 2022 hurricane season is expected to be quite active and prolonged. Between June and November, approximately 14 to 21 tropical storms are expected, of which 6 to 10 will strengthen into hurricanes and 3 to 6 will be major hurricanes, i.e., category 3 or higher. These figures are striking, especially considering that an average hurricane season has 14 storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes.
With the precedents of 2020 and the forecasts from mid-2022, there is a latent risk of new displacements as a consequence of these environmental events with a high destructive capacity. With this in mind, it is extremely important to consider disaster preparedness strategies, with special emphasis on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and minors.
However, it is also relevant to consider one population in particular; migrants. Due to factors such as language barriers, mobility restrictions, irregular immigration status, confiscation or loss of identity or travel documents, limited community networks or discrimination, migrants may experience obstacles in managing risk, accessing protection, moving away from danger or ensuring their own safety and well-being during disasters, such as those caused by hurricanes.
For this reason, we offer five recommendations for States, civil society and international organizations to consider when developing hurricane prevention plans, protecting the rights of migrants, addressing their vulnerabilities and needs, but also taking advantage of their resilience and capacities.
The following recommendations have been drawn from the document "Guidelines for Protecting Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disasters" from the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) initiative.
1. Monitor potential natural disasters and their impact on migrants.
While many disasters occur suddenly, there are others that are cyclical and recurrent, and some foresight may be possible, such as the hurricane season. Therefore, local, national and even regional authorities can collect information, monitor different climatic events and understand how they may affect populations in general and migrants in particular.
2. Collect and share information on migrants, respecting privacy, confidentiality and security.
To protect migrants when disasters occur, States, international organizations and civil society need relevant and up-to-date information. Therefore, the collection of demographic data, including information on gender, age and nationality, allows stakeholders involved in disaster risk prevention to understand the nature and extent of needs in the event of a crisis.
3. Empower, make visible and recognize the strengths of migrants to help themselves, their families and communities during crises.
To help themselves and others and to enjoy their rights, migrants need access to identity documents, basic public services and financial resources, among other things. The resilience of migrants can be undermined by factors related to their entry and stay, means of arrival, connections with the local population and conditions in the host community, including in the workplace. These factors can, in turn, undermine emergency response and recovery efforts.
4. Incorporate migrants into emergency prevention, preparedness and response systems.
Considering the presence of migrants, their vulnerabilities, potential needs and strengths, in prevention, preparedness and emergency frameworks, including disaster risk reduction (DRR), can promote resilience in the event of a disaster. It is important to ensure non-discrimination of migrants in receiving different types of assistance in the event of a crisis.
5. Communicate effectively with migrants
Migrants should understand the potential risks associated with a crisis, where and how to obtain assistance, and how to inform authorities, international and civil society organizations if necessary. Stakeholders must also find appropriate channels to communicate with migrants and identify their needs and capacities. This requires States, the private sector, international organizations and civil society to address linguistic, cultural and other barriers.
Lessons learned from previous hurricane seasons, especially the 2020 hurricane season, have shown that States cannot act alone to protect migrant populations from disasters. The private sector, as a provider of essential services and partners in crisis preparedness, response and recovery, international organizations, with their technical expertise and capacity for action, and civil society, as a fundamental bridge between governments and communities, play a transcendental role in protecting migrants from the risks and emergencies that may arise during a disaster.
Even migrants themselves, as leaders and activists within communities, play a key role in ensuring their own safety and well-being.
In fact, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, in its objective 2, draws attention to the need to consider migrants in national emergency preparedness and response activities, including taking into account relevant recommendations of State-led consultative processes, such as the Guidelines for the Protection of Migrants in Countries Affected by Conflict or Natural Disaster (Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative).
A better response by all parties involved in the prevention of and preparedness for environmental emergencies makes it possible to protect migrants' rights more effectively and to meet the needs of migrants, their families and host communities.