South-East Asia, 13 October 2022 – Human mobility remains a defining feature of today’s world, driven by an array of motivations and taking place through both regular and irregular channels, both voluntarily and involuntarily. Globally, we are increasingly witnessing the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on human mobility trends.
In South-East Asia, millions are already moving within and outside the region seeking employment or refuge, with the growing effects of climate change likely to influence these complex migration flows. The region is particularly vulnerable to environmental disasters, including floods, droughts and storms, as well as other consequences of global warming. Myanmar and Thailand ranked among the top 10 countries in the world for climate-related loss events between 2000 and 2019, while Cambodia and Viet Nam were in the top 20. While it is difficult to predict the scale of human mobility resulting from climate impacts, without concrete action, we can expect more people to be on the move in the future.
These trends pose additional risks to migrants, especially those in irregular situations who are likely to be less resilient to crisis. Often, migrants are not included as part of national or local-level disaster preparedness and response plans. In times of crisis, migrant populations do not always have access to social protection mechanisms or timely information – magnifying the needs that need to be addressed.
To respond to the emerging challenges faced by migrants in crisis contexts, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) facilitated the implementation of the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) initiative – a state-led initiative which has supported governments and other stakeholders since 2014 to improve the protection of migrants in countries experiencing crises.
The MICIC initiative led to a set of guidelines and voluntary principles to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster.
In South-East Asia, IOM has been working closely with member states to enhance the capacity of governments and partners to adopt these principles and turn them into action. The Government of the Philippines has been a champion of the initiative from the very beginning, leading the dialogue process on the development of the guidelines, together with the United States.
The Royal Thai Government was one of the first countries in South-East Asia to adopt the MICIC initiative. This included launching several steps to mainstream the guidelines into its policy and operational frameworks. IOM supported the translation of the guidelines into Thai and, at the community level, has been carrying out a series of trainings since 2016 to strengthen officials’ and migrants’ capacities in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Through a range of classroom-based trainings, workshops, discussions, dissemination events, and live simulation exercises, more than 170 officials and 1,500 community members developed an increased knowledge of preparedness, response and recovery measures that incorporate the needs of migrants.
IOM assisted the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) to establish a pool of over 50 master trainers on shelter management, consisting of representatives from DDPM, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) and the Thai Red Cross. Furthermore, IOM supported DDPM to develop guidelines for the set-up, operationalization, and management of collective shelters – safe spaces opened to hosting migrant populations.
To familiarize stakeholders with the guidelines for shelter management, IOM facilitated simulation exercises, which allowed designated first responders to identify the challenges faced by migrants, learn from each other’s experiences and ensure migrants have equal access to shelters. These initiatives focused on understanding the challenges posed by frequently occurring natural disasters in Thailand, such as floods, landslides and tsunamis. Tsunami drills were organized by the DDPM in at-risk provinces and involved migrant communities, in accordance with the MICIC guidelines.
Furthermore, in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Thailand, IOM is working with governments to strengthen the capacity of consular officials so that countries of origin and destination can collaborate effectively on assisting migrants in crisis. IOM is also engaging civil society actors to further their understanding on the role they can play in protecting migrants during crisis. Finally, IOM is supporting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat to develop regional guidelines on the protection of migrant workers in crisis situations.
As we approach the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), IOM advocates for the recognition of the links between human mobility and climate hazards and to address them at local, national, regional and international levels. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 13, we need to increase action for climate change adaptation measures, and resources to avert and minimize displacement, when and where it is still possible, and strengthen people’s resilience.
Faced with the threat of the intensifying climate crisis, in South-East Asia, IOM is committed to working with member states to protect people on the move. With strong government leadership and ownership, institutionalizing the MICIC principles in preparedness and response plans will allow migrants to receive the support they need – ensuring that, truly, we leave no one behind in the battle against climate change.
IOM’s Migration in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) work in South-East Asia is currently funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), through the Asia Regional Migration Program.
Written by Anindya Dutta, IOM Thailand Project Officer, MICIC and Migration, Environment and Climate Change