Record Numbers Displaced by Natural Disasters
For many people, 2005 will be remembered for its sheer number of catastrophes. Relief efforts for victims of the December 26, 2004 Asian tsunami continued well into this year, helped by donations from Sri Lankans, Indonesians, and many others from abroad. Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in August, forcing hundreds of thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi residents to find shelter in other parts of the country.
This year's severe hurricane season also took its toll on Central America as Hurricane Stan killed more than 1,100 and caused flooding and mudslides in El Salvador and Guatemala in early October. As with Hurricane Mitch, which hit the region in 1998, some believe those displaced will migrate to the United States.
Issue No. 10 of Top Ten of 2005
In October, a massive earthquake in northern Pakistan killed at least 87,000 and left millions displaced in a disaster considered by some more distressing than the tsunami because of the remote location and the onset of winter.
The tsunami, in migration terms, affected thousands of Burmese workers, both legal and illegal, in Thailand; delayed plans of numerous governments to deport Indonesians; spurred the Canadian and Australian governments to fast-track immigration paperwork for victims; and made thousands of orphaned children vulnerable to trafficking. Development experts hope that migrants from the affected countries working and living abroad will contribute to rebuilding costs now that most relief-related needs have been met.
As with the tsunami, Pakistanis in Canada, the UK, and the United States have mobilized to provide money and on-the-ground assistance for victims. U.S. Congressional representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and Al Green (D-TX), have sponsored a bill that would grant Pakistanis Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would allow them to live and work in the United States until the government deems it is safe for them to return.
Shortly after the earthquake, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began providing supplies in the region, which had also been home to refugees from Afghanistan. One of the agency's missions has been constructing temporary camps for the displaced and training local military and civil officials how to manage the camps.
UNHCR, which does not normally respond to natural disasters or specifically work on behalf of internally displaced persons (IDPs), set a precedent in 2005 by first providing emergency relief in Aceh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, among the the areas worst affected by the tsunami, and then in Pakistan. UNHCR's involvement in 2005's disasters marks a turning point for cooperation among international humanitarian agencies in addressing the needs of IDPs.
For more information, please see the following articles:
Assessing the Tsunami's Effects on Migration
Minimizing Development-Induced Displacement
Interview with António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
UNHCR and NGOs: Competitors or Companions in Refugee Protection?
The Internally Displaced in Perspective
Indonesia's Labor Looks Abroad