How to Help Migrants Integrate Using Disaster Recovery and Preparedness


*This entry was originally published here.

With a different set of resources than the natives, migrants face specific challenges during and after disaster. It is therefore essential to take them into consideration in the disaster risk reduction process and in post-disaster recovery. We give here the voice to an immigrant in a place strongly affected by a series of volcanic eruptions. Although it is a personal story reflecting on the individual experience and perception of one person, it also relates to several issues faced by immigrants all over the world in post-disaster context.

Some 15 years of destructive volcanic eruptions totally and definitively devastated the South of Montserrat in the Leeward Islands, British West Indies, including Plymouth the capital city. This vicious enduring cycle led to major unforeseen demographic change on the Island.

In the first three years that followed 1995, when the volcanic crisis started, about 75 per cent of the population was forced to leave the country, leaving only 2,400 people on the country against about 10,500 before 1995. This left massive labour gaps in all sectors of the society. Rapidly after this major exodus, the population began to slowly rejuvenate as migrants arrived from neighbouring Islands, attracted by the jobs let vacant by the displaced Montserratians and by the critical need of construction workers. Since 2002, about half of the people living in Montserrat are immigrants and without them the country could not function.

Bettrice, a Jamaican woman in her 30s, is one of them.

Bettrice (right) with Red Cross volunteers in Montserrat.


She had been a tuberculosis specialist for almost ten years in her country of origin, when, in 2010, she heard by word-of-mouth that the hospital in Montserrat needed a substitute medical technician. And at this point in her life, Bettrice was looking for a change.

New to Montserrat, Bettrice found that she could only secure short-term contracts. She soon felt that she would not be able to progress in her career, despite her hefty qualifications and 6 years’ experience. For several years, she would stay in Montserrat for the duration of her contract and then travel back to Jamaica in between contracts — in other words her work situation dictated when she could see her family and other loved ones back home.

In 2014, her third trip back to Montserrat, Bettrice applied to be a Disaster Risk Reduction officer with the Montserrat Red Cross. She had been volunteering with them since she first came to the Island and believed in their mission.

Bettrice’s work with the Red Cross contributes to the Island’s vital recovery process following fifteen years of constant hazards. The Red Cross has played a major role in Montserrat’s ongoing regeneration, not only because of its focus on disaster management but also due to the support it gives to migrants, helping them integrate. It acts at district level for various community regeneration projects, including for instance improvement of access and waste management, cleaning of abandoned houses, etc. It also conducts several risk awareness programs and assesses the level of vulnerability to various natural hazards within each district in order to implement specific projects there and advocate for governmental work.


The Soufrière Hills volcano located outside Plymouth, Montserrat.

And migrants actually make up a large majority of those volunteering with the organization — sometimes estimated at 80 or 90 per cent. With a strong emphasis on non-discrimination and inclusiveness, volunteering with the local Red Cross provides an opportunity for newcomers to get involved in their community, meet people and become part of Montserrat.

Bettrice explained that despite her continuous efforts to join in and to discover the country’s rich culture, her nationality always seemed to keep her out. She even joined a choir hoping to discover more about Montserratian culture. In fact, some people in the community started to believe that she was a Montserratian herself — someone, who had emigrated during the volcanic crisis and returned home once it was over and for a long time, she found it easier to let them believe that. When it became well-known that she was Jamaican, she lost a large part of her social network and started to become closer to the Jamaican community. She felt she could speak more freely with them and be better understood.

Regular discrimination against migrant communities in Montserrat upsets Bettrice. She said migrants need mental strength to cope with the regular attacks and stigma that they face. She explained the difficulty of maintaining a good relationship with someone, who was born and bred on the Island, meant that sticking to her own group seemed easier. However, through the Red Cross, she saw the need to be inclusive and not close yourself off to other groups. In her work, Bettrice tries to bring people together. She regularly organizes meetings in different neighbourhoods throughout Montserrat, where she makes sure to invite all communities.


Some of the destruction caused by the volcano near Plymouth. 

One of her main roles is to proactively help reduce people’s vulnerability to natural hazards like volcanic eruptions. Bettrice has to understand the specific socio-economic situations of the different communities in order to properly advocate for their particular needs to be included in national recovery but also disaster preparedness strategy. Indeed as most move to Montserrat to find better economic opportunities, immigrants are often forced to accept the most unstable and low-paid jobs, such as cleaning and construction, and are forced to live in precarious housing conditions, often very close to the area, which was devastated time and time again by the volcano.

Suffering from a high level of stigmatization, migrants remain spatially, socially and economically marginalized. They are not represented at the decision-making level despite making up more than 50 per cent of the total population, and not all nationalities are allowed to vote. With the Red Cross, Bettrice identifies their needs and works to empower the most vulnerable and alleviate poverty. She helps migrants stabilize their situation and really engage in Montserrat life with the aim of making long term contributions to the country.

Bettrice helps their voices be heard.

She has claimed that more of this work should be done, arguing that migrants are not represented enough in emergency planning. She has advocated for Jamaicans to have a strong community leader, able to represent them and help forge their place in society. Her involvement with the Red Cross goes well beyond efforts to reduce disaster risk. It embraces the concept that a divided society is a vulnerable one, contributing essentially to social cohesion and highlighting the need for better representation of some of the most marginalized people in Montserrat — migrants.

Seven years after she first arrived, Bettrice now feels accepted on the Island and is proud to be openly known as a Jamaican. While she may still face some critics, she is not afraid to raise her voice and be a spokesperson for migrants and more generally vulnerable groups on the island.



About the author:

This story was written by Charlotte Monteil, a geographer and fourth year PhD student at the University of East Anglia (UK). She currently works on the processes of recovery following a disaster. She spent 10 months in Montserrat to analyse the experience of the country after 15 years of regular volcanic eruptions. Charlotte is particularly interested in social vulnerability, the link between disaster and migration and the involvement of citizens in decision-making, disaster risk reduction measures and knowledge production. She contributed to the book “Migrants in Disaster Risk Reduction. Practices for Inclusion” published in 2017 by the Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative and IOM.

This story was published in the lead up to the International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October.


The missing link: using new data for migration governance

Autor: Guest Contributor

The lack of consistent data and collection techniques among countries inhibits the accurate identification of migration trends, as well as the impact that migration has on the institutional framework, economy and wellbeing of people in a country or region.

What are the challenges in migration data?

The first objective for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration stresses the importance of investing in the collection and use of accurate data to conduct evidence-based policy-making.

However, due to lack of technical resources, human capacity and/or funding, many states share limitations in the systematic collection and management of migration data.

According to IOM’s Migration Data Portal, there is more data collected on topics like migrant stocks and remittances, whereas topics such as migration flows, smuggling, migrant health, integration and the impact of migration policies have significant data gaps.

Many developing states simply don’t have the capacity to collect and systematize data at a nationwide scale. For example, according to IOM’s regional report, all ten Commonwealth Caribbean countries have departments or offices dedicated to the development of statistical information, but Jamaica is the only country which has collected migration data that can be systematically disaggregated.

Disaggregated data is particularly valuable, allowing states and organizations to have information on people that is comparable by sex, age, migration status and other relevant characteristics. This way, needs for specific migrant groups like children or women can be made visible and addressed.

The gaps in migrant data can also be largely attributed to the lack of mechanisms that facilitate information sharing between different government agencies and organisms.

All countries maintain records on entries and exits, visas, and permits, but many of them implement different data collection and management practices. Thus, policies between and in states are sometimes incoherent, and countries must work with only patches of information, which restricts their ability to apply a holistic government approach to migration governance.

Amidst these challenges, countries and the international community continue to work towards effectively filling these gaps to attend peoples’ needs.

The promise of new data

In the past, the main method of collecting data was through traditional sources like household surveys, national censuses and administrative records. These sources have a high cost and limitations, like inflexible designs in surveys for example.

Today, new or innovative data sources such as geospatial data, satellite imagery, mobile device data and social media data are gaining momentum fast. These sources represent a huge opportunity given the increased availability of digital records, wider coverage, timeliness, and practically no limitations on how frequently the information can be updated.

The potential applications of new data for migration seem promising. Big data in particular can help anticipate migration trends and movements based on data from social media platforms like Facebook or even from online searches. This same data can also contribute to monitoring public opinion and media discourse on migration at a much lower cost than public surveys.

Nevertheless, the use of new data (especially big data) presents several challenges:

  • Ethical and privacy issues: Automatically generated data raises concerns about confidentiality, misuse and security risks such as surveillance. In the case of IOM, our Data Protection Manual outlines our principles and standards for data governance.
  • Information bias: Big data is inherently biased. Social media and mobile phone users naturally do not represent the entire population, since some segments are over-represented, while other segments don’t use or have access to technology due to factors such as age, sex and economic level. 
  • Technical challenges: Data held by private actors or government entities may be difficult to access or use due to security or legal reasons. One could also encounter weak security systems and inappropriate infrastructure for data collection and management. Additionally, technological change and innovation occur at a fast pace, leading to issues of data continuity.

The way we process and share information is changing, so it’s only responsible that we also work on integrating new and traditional methods with new ones, while improving expertise in new types of data, data analytics (such as machine learning) and use. For management and use, interagency coordination is key, as well as the collaboration with both private and public sectors to transform data into policies that impact real people’s lives and contribute to sustainable development.

Along this line, IOM is currently in the process of implementing a project financed by the International Development Fund (IDF) to strengthen the institutional capacities for migration through the development of a migration information system that will allow Mesoamerican and Caribbean countries to have data on migration relevant for the design of migration policies. 

One of the main activities of this project consists of creating a Regional Network for the development of a Virtual Information Platform for Migration Governance (VIPMG). This Network will work on the exchange of migratory information (records of international arrivals and departures, residences, returns and other administrative data), as well as strengthening coordination and information flows between countries.

This platform aims to include preliminary statistics and analytics of administrative data to provide decision-makers with evidence-based information to support policy-making, thus assisting in improving data management capacities in order to use administrative data to its full potential, and provide information to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals related to migration.

The Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) also aims to fill gaps in data migration(such as data on returning migrants and registration coverage) and enable informed decision-making, but is focused on populations in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). NTMI has generated reliable information on migration, displacement and its relationship with development for its stakeholders in the region. 

Other resources:

IOM’s Migration Data Portal:

IOM’s Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS):

UN Global Working Group (GWG) on Big Data for Official Statistics:

IOM report, More than numbers: How data can have real impact on migration governance

 Northern Triangle Migration Information Initiative (NTMI) project (Gestión de Información de Movilidad Humana en el Triángulo Norte):