Global community fails to respond to displaced migrants

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Apr 10 2012

Last month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced it can no longer afford to repatriate migrants stranded in Yemen. The organization had requested additional funding late last year to continue providing humanitarian assistance, including repatriation, to African migrants primarily on the Saudi-Yemen border. The migrants largely reigned from Ethiopia, hoping to seek work in the kingdom, but instead became entangled in Yemen's conflict The dearth in funding impacted migrants throughout last year's operations, but conditions are quickly worsening; Even more migrants are left without work, limited food, and virtually no shelter. Italy recently donated 35 tons of humanitarian aid to be distributed by the IOM, but repatriation efforts remain suspended.

The predicament faced by the IOM is not a reflection of the organization's own mismanagement, but of wider global failures to respond to migrants caught in the turmoil of the Arab Spring. Last week, an official report finally acknowledged the avoidable, unnecessary deaths of 63 migrants escaping from Libya in 2011. NATO and European Coastguards could have rescued the refugees, who starved to death after their boat set adrift, but simply did not. While the report cites some errors in miscommunication and operating procedures, it clearly determines that maritime officers failed to respond to the boat's distress calls.

Cases of international negligence have been documented periodically throughout the revolutions - the images of migrants crowded nto buses and stranded in airports may be the most memorable. Yet, almost a full year later, the same issues remain: whether through deliberate negligence, or underfunding, the global community has still failed to sufficiently respond to the displacement crises.

There are instances where international rescues are unfeasible because of immediate dangers to rescue agencies. Sometimes risk assessments are miscalculated, and only later is the potential to provide aid to displaced migrants realized. But in the case of Yemen, there is no rational reason for migrants' sustained suffering - besides the void in resources that donor countries have failed to relieve. This virtual desertion perpetuates the deterioration of migrants trapped in conflict; migrants desperate to return home quickly recognize the solitude of their suffering, and proceed to take desperate measures, such as piling into overweight boats. The escalation of situations otherwise easily remediable results in the gross loss of life and creates a number of issues for international agencies down the line - such as the image and internal reorganization complications now faced by Europe's maritime forces.

An excellent piece published by The Brookings Institution addresses migrant displacement in a wider piece on the Arab Spring's refugees. Senior Foreign Policy fellow Khalid Koser analyzes the actions of the global community and the prospectives of future responses to migrant displacement:

The lessons to be learned about migration and displacement learned from the Arab Spring over the last twelve months have clear implications for the coming year. Syria is characterized by a protracted and violent conflict, no political will to protect civilians, with weak civil institutions, and the presence of a very large migrant population, and significant displacement may be expected as a result. While this migrant population is largely comprised of refugees rather than migrant workers, the extent to which they will become further displaced by the conflict in Syria, and how they will be assisted and protected, is an important challenge for UNHCR and the international community. And it is clear that the EU will resist large-scale asylum flows, meaning that the burden of the displacement from Syria will continue to fall upon neighboring Turkey in particular.

Read the full piece here.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East