Irregular migration and identity: More than just documents

The dangers of irregular migration are most often described as migrants being exposed to things like perilous routes, violence from criminals and potential traffickers.  And yes, data from the Missing Migrants Project indicate that the border between the United States and Mexico has become increasingly dangerous for people trying to avoid inspection. MMP has recorded a total of 1,907 deaths over the past five years, of which 444 occurred in 2018. 

Still, many do survive the crossing, only to meet dangers beyond the clandestine journey itself.  The reality is that large numbers of people make the trip successfully, but they arrive without a vital piece of their previous life: access to their identity.

A fundamental part of individual well-being is the proper connection between the individual and the nation state. This connection is established by law for nationals and migrants via the civil registry (or social security system in the case of United States citizens) and immigration law. Both systems issue forms of ID for various benefits for the people.  Thus, the individual is recognized under a country’s constitution, and can clearly access government protection as well as rights and services like political participation, education, employment or health care. At the same time, the individual can be held accountable to the state for various legal and administrative violations.

When people cross borders irregularly, they skip these processes entirely, breaking the connection between individual and state. In turn, this creates a subcategory of people who are unknown to the state.

This has several implications, but most importantly, it translates to vulnerability for people and states. Without recognition under the government, migrants live without the protection it entails, and without identity documents they fall into the informal economy, where they may be subject to exploitative practices.  At the same time, the informal economy grows with each new contributor and further erodes the relevance of the legitimate state.

The tendency in emerging economies is for governments to focus more on controlling peoples’ access to a migration status, but not necessarily their territory.  This is coupled with large informal economies. As a result, irregular migrants are mostly seeking access to a country’s territory and the informality, not access to migratory status.  In turn, this works towards the growth of inequality.

For some people, simply entering a country may be perceived as a “successful” migration, but without the identity management responsibilities of state and individual, how many obstacles will a migrant have to face the rest of their lives in that country? More vulnerable populations, such as children, may be trafficked or lost without anyone being able to verify their identity. They may end up as vulnerable in their destination country as they were during their journey.

Identity management should be improved collectively to avoid these issues.  A key action is to improve on policies that attract irregular populations to identify themselves to the state and for the state to have working methodologies to register people who may not be able to provide documentation.  Migration systems should not exacerbate vulnerabilities, but rather guarantee protection for migrants’ human rights.


Strength in diversity: how inclusiveness contributes to disaster risk reduction

Strength in diversity: how inclusiveness contributes to disaster risk reduction
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Autor: Guest Contributor

Disasters due to natural hazards exact a heavy toll on the well-being and safety of persons, communities and countries. These disasters tend to be exacerbated by climate change, and are increasing in frequency and intensity, significantly impeding progress towards sustainable development, especially for most exposed countries.

It is critical to anticipate, plan for and reduce disaster risk to more effectively protect persons, communities and countries, their livelihoods, health, cultural heritage, socioeconomic assets and ecosystems, and thus strengthen their resilience.

According to a recent IOM study on human mobility and the climate agenda in the Americas, countries in the region have advanced in the integration of human mobility in national and regional policies and plans for disaster risk reduction, as well as in other related areas such as climate change, development planning, agricultural policy and housing.

However, in many cases the most vulnerable populations are excluded from contributing to disaster risk management policies and plans, thus suffering more disproportionately when disasters strike.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which sets a series of guiding principles for States and other stakeholders in disaster risk reduction, stresses the importance of inclusive disaster risk management: “There has to be a broader and a more people-centered preventive approach to disaster risk. Disaster risk reduction practices need to be multi-hazard and multisectoral, inclusive and accessible in order to be efficient and effective.”

While Governments have a leading and regulatory role to play, they should engage with different groups including women, youth, persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and other communities in the design and implementation of policies, plans and standards.

The framework notes the following opportunities:

  • Migrants contribute to the resilience of communities and societies, and their knowledge, skills and capacities can be useful in the design and implementation of disaster risk reduction;
  • Persons with disabilities and their organizations are critical in the assessment of disaster risk and in designing and implementing plans tailored to specific requirements, taking into consideration the principles of universal design;
  • Children and youth are agents of change and should be given the space to contribute to disaster risk reduction
  • Women and their participation are critical to effectively managing disaster risk and designing, resourcing and implementing gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes; and adequate capacity building measures need to be taken to empower women for preparedness as well as to build their capacity to secure alternate means of livelihood in post-disaster situations;
  • Indigenous peoples, through their experience and traditional knowledge, provide an important contribution to the development and implementation of plans and mechanisms, including for early warning;
  • Older persons have years of knowledge, skills and wisdom, which are invaluable assets to reduce disaster risk, and they should be included in the design of policies, plans and mechanisms, including for early warning.

The inclusion of migrants and other communities can also contribute towards strengthening local capacities, advance an integrated agenda, strengthen local networks and expand the governance base of migration and climate change.

To turn these words into action, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) developed a companion for implementing the Sendai Framework Target, offering practical guidance to help Government authorities integrate disaster displacement and other related forms of human mobility into disaster risk reduction strategies at local and regional levels.

Similarly, The Migrants In Countries In Crisis Initiative (MICIC), developed a series of Principles, Guidelines, and Practices to strengthen local, national, regional, and international action to better protect migrants in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters. The Guidelines provide recommendations on how migration can contribute to resilience, recovery, and the well-being of affected communities and societies. These include practices for implementation, such as migrant-to-migrant learning, regional and cross-border contingency plans, and crisis alert systems. 

While public and private sectors, civil society organizations, academia and scientific and research institutions, communities and businesses can all work more closely together to create opportunities for collaboration, the rights of vulnerable groups should always be contemplated as part of holistic strategies for disaster risk management and climate change adaptation.