Red Cross urges countries to relax rules for forced migrants

Issuing temporary work visas, allowing easier border crossing, and helping forced migrants integrate quickly into local communities could help ease the plight, the IFRC says.

Mariana Bazo/Reuters/File
Haitian immigrants sleep at a church in Inapari, Peru, on the border with Brazil, in February. Nearly 300 Haitians fleeing the poverty of their earthquake-ravaged homeland were stuck in the Peruvian Amazon after Brazil stationed police along the border to stop a wave of illegal immigration.

Governments should take a more radical approach to helping the tens of millions of people uprooted by conflicts and disasters, including granting new forms of citizenship, the Red Cross and Red Crescent says.

Issuing temporary work visas, allowing more cross-border mobility, and helping migrants integrate quickly into local communities are other measures that could help ease the plight of those forced to flee their homes.

Over 72 million people, more than 1 in every 100 of the world’s citizens, are displaced, according to the World Disasters Report 2012, the flagship publication of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The IFRC says growing numbers of people are being uprooted by violence, political upheaval, disasters, climate change, and development projects, but governments and citizens are becoming increasingly resistant to helping them.

“There is no shortage of innovative approaches that could help to alleviate the trauma of extended exile. However, the difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones,” the report adds.

In particular, it suggests the international community consider new ways of viewing citizenship, such as developing regional citizenships or freedom-of-movement accords.

The report points to the example of refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia who were reissued with national passports as civil war ended, signalling a type of “political” repatriation. But they were able to stay in the host communities where they had settled thanks to agreements providing West African citizens with regional employment and residency rights.

The IFRC says this type of arrangement could be very helpful for second- and third-generation refugees who have never seen their “homeland” – the land their parents or grandparents fled.

The report also points out that migration can help recovery after conflict or disaster by boosting remittances, and urges governments to ease restrictions on employment for those who have fled crises.

It highlights the United States' decision in January 2012 to allow Haitians to apply for temporary work visas as a way of encouraging remittance flows for post-earthquake reconstruction. Brazil has similarly decided to grant visas to many Haitians.

Although governments are resistant to mass naturalization of refugees in protracted displacement crises, the IFRC points out that some local integration is bound to happen over time – through marriage, education, and employment.

The report argues that states should accept a certain level of integration and consider granting formal status to some displaced groups. For example, it could give permanent residency to refugees who own businesses, hold a school diploma, or can fill a labor gap.

The IFRC admits that such an approach is controversial because it could exacerbate inequalities among displaced communities by favoring those who are educated and more employable. But pragmatists would argue this is better than no solution at all, it adds.

Finally, the report calls for the international community to pay more attention to ways of preventing protracted displacement in the first place, possibly through pre-emptive “micro-level displacement.”

Evidence from Iraq and Somalia suggests that early small movements to safety – across streets or neighborhoods – may avoid longer, more traumatic migration further down the line and can increase the chance of people returning home when conditions allow.

This article originally appeared at AlertNet, a humanitarian news site operated by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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