Migration and displacement

IRRC No. 904

Migration and displacement

Throughout the history of mankind, people around the world have left their homes, fleeing armed conflict, persecution, poverty or simply seeking better opportunities. Migration can be voluntary or involuntary, but most of the time a combination of choices and constraints lead some to leave, while others stay behind. What needs do people have while on the road? Are those needs different based on the reason for leaving home? What distinguishes someone who is displaced internally from someone who has crossed an international border? How can humanitarian actors, States and the international community best protect and assist those who flee, whether within their own State, while in transit, or in the destination country? This edition of the Review attempts to unpack and address these and other related questions, while providing insights into different humanitarian approaches to the needs and vulnerabilities of migrants and internally displaced persons.

Table of contents

  • Editorial: Migration and displacement: Humanity with its back to the wall

    Crowds of people on the move with their bundles of possessions, young men frantically scaling fences, boatloads of women and children pummelled by the waves, bodies washed up the beach, camps with endless rows of tents and chaotic shanty towns stretching as far as the eye can see, transit centres where hopes fade, humiliated workers forced to do jobs nobody else wants, mothers waiting a lifetime in vain for news of daughters or sons who left to seek their fortune elsewhere. These are some of the images that might come to mind when picturing the plight of uprooted people around the world.
    Vincent Bernard, Editor-in-Chief

  • "All I want is to know": Testimonies of the Families of Missing Migrants in Zimbabwe

    Every day, people all over the world leave their homes in search of a better life. On the road, many go missing. The mandate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence includes, in certain contexts, protection of vulnerable migrants. The ICRC missing migrants pilot project aims to locate or clarify the fate of Zimbabwean migrants who went missing in South Africa, on behalf of their families. The ICRC aims to work with South African and Zimbabwean authorities to support and enhance existing systems, tools and resources used for locating missing relatives, living or dead. Additionally, the ICRC carries out and supports the activities of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region to restore contact between and where possible reunify family members, in particular children, who have been separated by conflict, migration, displacement or natural or man-made disasters.The Review has chosen to open this issue with the stories of family members of missing migrants in Zimbabwe. The section aims to show the everyday struggle, sometimes lasting for many years, of those that live with continuous uncertainty regarding the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. As a result of the disappearances associated with migration, families searching for missing relatives often face a range of needs and challenges. These persons chose to share their life stories with the Review, allowing our readers to understand the intricate balance of uncertainty, hope and the “need to know” that family members of missing migrants live with every day. The testimonies were given to the ICRC in Zimbabwe in November 2017. In order to protect the families, their names have been omitted.

  • Interview with Filippo Grandi

    The tradition of providing refuge to people who are fleeing and in need of protection is a long-standing one, present throughout history and in various contexts, and now embedded in international law. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2016, reaffirmed international refugee protection standards and provided a model for a more comprehensive response to large-scale refugee movements, based on shared global responsibility for refugees. It represented a critical development at a time when international cooperation aimed at preventing, responding to and resolving conflicts is proving inadequate, and an increasing number of people are being internally displaced, forced across borders or left in protracted exile as a result of conflict, violence and persecution. In this interview, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees shares his thoughts on some of today’s most significant forced displacement challenges, and the prospects presented by the New York Declaration.
    Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

  • Mobilising the Movement: Australian Red Cross, migration, and the role of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around humanitarian response

    Established in war, embedded in communities and operational in every major natural and man-made disaster, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) – including 191 National Societies – is uniquely positioned to address the humanitarian needs of migrants at all points of their journey. With migration on the rise and an area of intense debate, this article examines the work of Australian Red Cross and the collective efforts of the International Federation of Red Cross Red and Red Crescent Societies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Asia Pacific Migration Network, particularly across 2015–17, to support the Movement in the region in providing assistance and protection to those who are most vulnerable. It considers the progress made so far, and the potential of the Movement to engage more effectively and collaboratively on opportunities and challenges into the future.
    Vicki Mau, Australian Red Cross

  • British Red Cross response to young migrants in Calais, France

    In 2016, thousands of young migrants were stranded in Calais, France, in the “Jungle” refugee camp. This paper aims to provide an overview of the British Red Cross’s response and of how the organization engaged in numerous activities to secure their safety, culminating in a transfer of children to the United Kingdom.
    Debbie Busler, British Red Cross

  • Assistance for and protection of migrants: Experience of the Honduran Red Cross

    The Honduran Red Cross began working in the area of migration in July 2012, when it set up the Migrant Assistance Module in Corinto for Honduran migrants returning over land at the Honduran–Guatemalan border. The Honduran Red Cross has helped hundreds of returning and irregular migrants, thanks to agreements with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Migration Institute. It has also worked with other National Red Cross Societies in the region, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have helped it to strengthen its capacity and build a comprehensive vision for the protection and assistance of migrants. This article summarizes the action that the Honduran Red Cross has undertaken with respect to migration and explores the services provided at the Corinto module, the Honduran Red Cross’s subsequent management of the Returning Migrant Assistance Centre in Omoa and other care centres for migrants returning because of their irregular status, and the development and implementation of projects on migration and related topics.
    Arnaldo Ponce, Honduran Red Cross
    Norma Archila, Honduran Red Cross

  • Displacement in Nigeria: Scenes from the northeast

    Now in its ninth year, the armed conflict in Nigeria has forced more than 2 million people from their homes, with more than 1.5 million of these displaced within the country. The regionalized conflict – which since 2013 has affected the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger – has caused a protracted humanitarian crisis with some of the highest human costs in the world. In the following gallery, photographer Newsha Tavakolian gives us a glimpse into the lives of displaced persons in northeastern Nigeria.

  • Between hospitality and asylum: A historical perspective on displaced agency

    This article aims at positioning the agency of the displaced within the longue durée, as it is exposed in contexts of hospitality and asylum, by articulating its key modes: contingent, willed and compelled. Using the ancient world as its starting point, the article exposes the duplicity in conceiving of the current condition of displacement as transient or exceptional. As such, it argues for the urgent need of a shift in the perception of displaced persons from that of impotent victims to potent agents, and to engage with the new forms of exceptional politics which their circumstances engender.
    Elena Isayev, University of Exeter

  • Addressing the protection and assistance needs of migrants: The ICRC approach to migration

    The vulnerability of migrants and the threats to which they are exposed during their journey, on land, at sea, or in countries where they have settled, raise serious humanitarian concerns that cannot be ignored. In view of the transregional nature of migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) draw on their presence all along migration routes to contribute to the humanitarian response and alleviate the suffering of vulnerable migrants. The Movement’s proximity to vulnerable migrants through its solid and experienced network of responders along migratory routes is one of its specific advantages. The aim of this article is to explain the ICRC’s view on and approach to migration. It underlines that the ICRC’s response is dictated by humanitarian needs, and stresses that these needs can be greatly reduced when States abide by their commitments under international law and adopt and implement policies that take into account the protection and assistance needs of migrants. It acknowledges the diverse and complex human realities behind migration and outlines the main protection and assistance concerns of migrants in countries and regions where the ICRC operates.
    Stéphanie Le Bihan, ICRC

  • The protection of migrants under international humanitarian law

    The movement of migrants across international borders may result in grave humanitarian consequences and protection and assistance needs for those involved. Although many reach their destinations safely, others may find themselves in a country experiencing armed conflict – either because they live there or are travelling through there – and may endure great difficulties and be particularly vulnerable. In these situations, as civilians, migrants are protected under international humanitarian law (IHL) against the effects of hostilities and when in the hands of a party to the conflict. This article will provide an overview of the protection afforded by IHL to migrants as civilians in international and non- international armed conflicts. It will then examine more closely certain particularly relevant rules for the issue of migration, notably those related to the movement of migrants, family unity, and missing and dead migrants. In this way, this article will show that IHL provides important legal protections for migrants finding themselves in situations of armed conflict.
    Helen Obregón Gieseken, ICRC

  • Some reflections on the IFRC’s approach to migration and displacement

    This article provides an overview of the development of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) approach to migration and displacement. The focus of the IFRC and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (National Societies) in this regard has traditionally been on refugees and other so-called “displaced persons” – that is, people who have been compelled to flee their place or country of origin and for this reason are deemed to be particularly vulnerable. However, this focus has been extended recently, in the course of the past decade, to cover all people who find themselves in a vulnerable situation in the context of migration. The IFRC Migration Policy, which was adopted in 2009, has offered much-needed guidance to National Societies in dealing with all migrants, including irregular migrants. However, it is argued that there is a need today – taking into consideration the increasing number of displaced people worldwide and the numerous contexts in which National Societies are dealing with refugees, internally displaced persons or cross-border disaster-displaced persons – to better understand the programmatic aspects that are specific to displacement compared with migration. This is a necessary condition in view of the development of more adequate and effective responses to the vulnerabilities and needs of migrants and displaced persons.
    Sebastien Moretti, IFRC
    Tiziana Bonzon, IFRC

  • Migration and data protection: Doing no harm in an age of mass displacement, mass surveillance and “big data”

    This article considers the key data protection challenges facing humanitarian organizations providing assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants. These challenges are particularly significant for several reasons: because data protection has come relatively late to the humanitarian sector; because humanitarian organizations are under pressure to innovate rapidly; because the global communications architecture on which many of these innovations depend is inherently vulnerable to State surveillance; and because States are deploying increasingly sophisticated and coercive means to prevent irregular forms of migration and/or subjecting humanitarian organizations to surveillance and disruption. The first part of the article outlines the fundamental rights challenges presented by contemporary data-driven migration control paradigms. The second outlines concerns about “data-driven humanitarianism” and “mass surveillance” to show how humanitarian organizations risk inadvertently exacerbating these problems. The third assesses specific data protection challenges that humanitarian organizations face and the policies and practices they have developed in response. The article concludes with some brief observations on the technical and political dynamics shaping their efforts to comply with their legal and ethical obligations, and calls for the sector to work together to extend data protection norms and outlaw cyber-attacks by State actors.
    Ben Hayes, Researcher

  • Obligations of transit countries under refugee law: A Western Balkans case study

    A significant increase in the number of arrivals of refugees and migrants in Europe along the Western Balkans route brought several Balkan countries into the spotlight of international refugee protection in 2015 and 2016. Out of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants recorded entering the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, only a handful remained to seek asylum from their authorities. Under the circumstances, the applicability of the 1951 Refugee Convention with respect to refugees refraining from seeking asylum was brought into question, as well as the extent of transit countries’ legal obligations under refugee law. Based on the Western Balkans experience, the present article seeks to re-examine the relationship between the concept of asylum and the regime of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention’s scope of application in “transit countries”, and minimal standards stemming from positive law regarding the treatment of refugees and migrants in a transit context.
    Pavle Kilibarda, University of Geneva

  • In the name of (de)securitization: Speaking security to protect migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons?

    This article examines how the protection of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is spoken about and framed. Today it is evident that the dominant responses of sovereign States to each of these groups is heavily reliant on the language of security and (de)securitization, and this article openly conceptualizes ongoing attempts to protect migrants, refugees and IDPs as a series of overlapping (de)securitized “games”. At least three arguments follow from this claim. First, adopting this approach serves as a reminder that the ways in which different groups of people are spoken about often constitutes a dividing line between life and death. Second, the language games of (de)securitization are not identical when it comes to protecting different groups. Third, using securitization as the theoretical point of departure provides a timely reminder that none of the three categorizations listed above is guaranteed to apply. On the contrary, the adoption of each linguistic label – migrant, refugee, IDP – is subject to and dependent upon audience acceptance. Remembering the latter dimension is imperative to fully comprehend the ongoing contestations and countermoves in response to people moving in search of security. By way of conclusion, the article contends that far more attention must be paid to broader understandings of acceptance and love to ensure the protection of migrants, refugees and IDPs.
    Faye Donnelly, University of St Andrews

  • Protecting internally displaced persons: The value of the Kampala Convention as a regional example

    This article examines the value of the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) in the general quest for the regional and global protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs). It contends that the absence of a globally binding legal instrument for the protection of IDPs underlines the importance of the Kampala Convention and the possible contribution it can make to global and regional efforts to create a binding legal framework for the protection of IDPs. While recognizing some challenges that may impact the full implementation of the Convention, the article concludes by noting its various positive elements that are invaluable in overall efforts to create a comprehensive global legal framework to enhance protection of IDPs.
    Adama Dieng, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide

  • Specificities and challenges of responding to internal displacement in urban settings

    The world is rapidly urbanizing, and so is internal displacement. However, knowledge about the specific situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in urban settings and how it differs from, and impacts on, their host communities is still limited, and responses continue to be inadequate. This article analyzes the particular needs of urban IDPs by taking into account how the various contexts and patterns of urban internal displacement contribute to shaping people’s experience. It discusses three key challenges that humanitarian actors are faced with in developing effective responses: identifying and reaching IDPs in urban settings, addressing their urgent protection concerns, and supporting their local integration. It concludes by pointing out the need for methodological and operational guidance on how to bring together area-based approaches that account for the impact of displacement on entire urban communities, and tailored approaches addressing IDPs’ specific needs in urban settings. The need for stocktaking exercises and more effective sharing of experiences among practitioners, municipal authorities and policy-makers is also underlined.
    Angela Cotroneo, ICRC

  • Do no harm: A taxonomy of the challenges of humanitarian experimentation

    This article aims to acknowledge and articulate the notion of “humanitarian experimentation”. Whether through innovation or uncertain contexts, managing risk is a core component of the humanitarian initiative – but all risk is not created equal. There is a stark ethical and practical difference between managing risk and introducing it, which is mitigated in other fields through experimentation and regulation. This article identifies and historically contextualizes the concept of humanitarian experimentation, which is increasingly prescient, as a range of humanitarian subfields embark on projects of digitization and privatization. This trend is illustrated here through three contemporary examples of humanitarian innovations (biometrics, data modelling, cargo drones), with references to critical questions about adherence to the humanitarian “do no harm” imperative. This article outlines a broad taxonomy of harms, intended to serve as the starting point for a more comprehensive conversation about humanitarian action and the ethics of experimentation.
    Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
    Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, Copenhagen University
    Sean Martin McDonald, FrontlineSMS

  • Note on migration and the principle of non-refoulement, ICRC, 2018

    Throughout history, high numbers of persons have left, or have been forced to leave, their countries of origin. In order to protect migrants or refugees against being returned to places in which their fundamental rights are in danger, States have developed the principle of non-refoulement. This principle, reflected in different bodies of international law, protects any person from being transferred (returned, expelled, extradited—whatever term is used) from one authority to another when there are substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being subjected to violations of certain fundamental rights. The principle is multi-faceted and its scope and application vary from context to context in accordance with the applicable law. The present note recalls the legal basis of the principle of non-refoulement in different bodies of international law, examines its scope of application, and presents how certain aspects of the principle have been interpreted by States, courts, human rights treaty bodies, or expert organizations. The note also explains – where relevant – which understanding of the principle of non-refoulement the ICRC follows in its dialogue with States.

  • ICRC policy paper on immigration detention

    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has worked on behalf of detained irregular migrants for many years as part of its activities for detainee populations in general, but has only recently started implementing specific programmes for detained migrants in countries of transit and destination. The ICRC visits detained migrants in both criminal and dedicated immigration detention facilities. During these visits, as with all detainees, the ICRC assesses whether detained migrants are treated humanely, held in conditions that preserve their dignity and afforded due process of law. The ICRC also evaluates whether they are able to maintain contact with the outside world, such as with their families and consular authorities, if they wish to do so. As part of its dialogue with the authorities, the ICRC also raises protection issues related to return to ensure that the authorities fulfil their obligations under relevant international law – in particular with respect to the principle of non-refoulement.

  • Translating the Kampala Convention into practice: A stocktaking exercise

    In 2016, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carried out a study to take stock of current progress in implementing the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention). As the first ever legally binding international instrument of its kind, the Kampala Convention represents a significant step forward in reaffirming the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the face of a growing displacement problem in Africa. The stocktaking exercise grew because of the recognition of the value of the Kampala Convention and the urgent need to make it as effective as possible. The ICRC was involved from the outset in the drafting of the Kampala Convention and, since its adoption, has been working on promoting its ratification and implementation. The stocktaking exercise, therefore, is part of the ICRC's continuous support to the Kampala Convention. It is also an additional step within the framework of the ICRC's long-term operational engagement in addressing the needs of the displaced and their host communities affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence in Africa. At the origin of the stocktaking exercise was also the observation that several States have undertaken – or are undertaking – important action to domesticate and operationalize the Kampala Convention, but they have tended to do so in isolation. The ICRC felt there was a need to compile the diverse experiences of States in order to bolster efforts to fully implement the Convention, by allowing States to learn from each other about how the Convention can work best. The study examined the practice of twenty-five African countries in which the ICRC is operating – these include not only States party to the Kampala Convention, but also other States not yet party who have taken action on internal displacement in the form of normative, policy or concrete measures. The focus has been on those obligations that are based in international humanitarian law or touch on humanitarian issues that the ICRC encounters in operations across Africa. The findings were published in a report that identifies lessons learned, best practices and key challenges in States' efforts to meet their obligations towards IDPs, as provided in the Kampala Convention. The report offers recommendations to States and other actors concerned (African Union, Regional Economic Communities, UN agencies, civil society organizations, etc.) on how to translate the Kampala Convention into real improvements for IDPs. The report is being used by ICRC delegations in Africa in bilateral discussions with States on their obligations to protect and assist IDPs, and to provide them with durable solutions. It is also used to support the adoption by States of national legal frameworks and policies as part of their responses to situations of internal displacement. At the continental level, the report informs the ICRC's long-standing cooperation with the African Union and sub-regional forums (e.g. the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Economic Community of West African States) on promoting ratification of the Kampala Convention and strengthening its implementation. For example, the report served as a starting point for discussions among experts during the first meeting of the Conference of States Party to the Kampala Convention that was held in Harare in April 2017. According to the framework of the Plan of Action adopted by the Conference, the ICRC is to support further initiatives to enhance awareness of the Kampala Convention and facilitate the sharing of experience and expertise among States on its implementation. The report's findings and recommendations are also proving to be useful in the ICRC's dialogue with States in other regions beyond Africa, insofar as they provide examples of measures that States can adopt to address internal displacement more effectively at the national and regional levels.

  • Forced to flee: A multidisciplinary conference on internal displacement, migration and refugee crises, SOAS University of London, Arts and Humanities Research Council, University of Exeter, British Red Cross and ICRC

    "Forced to Flee" was a multidisciplinary two-day conference on internal displacement, migration and refugee crises, jointly organized by SOAS University of London, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the University of Exeter, the British Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It brought together some sixty researchers, independent and UK government policy-makers, and senior humanitarian practitioners.

  • Aide-memoire: Operational guidance on maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of sites and settlements

    In light of the growing complexity of humanitarian crises today and the continued need for effective cooperation among humanitarian actors, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched a consultative process in September 2016 to collect operational practices with regard to maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of sites and settlements for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. Exchanges with field staff from both organizations targeted five ongoing operations–in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Iraq, Nigeria and South Sudan – and included a one-day workshop in Geneva on 20 April 2017 in which the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) also participated. A wider set of stakeholders was consulted as well, during a roundtable organized under the auspices of the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) on 21 April.This aide-memoire draws on the above-mentioned consultations to provide operational guidance for humanitarian actors in maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of sites and settlements (hereinafter referred to as sites) in situations of armed conflict. Part 1 of this guidance sets out the necessary context and principles with regard to the civilian and humanitarian character of sites. It provides a description of the main operational challenges and dilemmas that humanitarian actors confront and examines the content of applicable legal frameworks. Part 2 offers measures for humanitarian actors to consider – within the remit of their respective expertise, experience and mandates – when working toward maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of sites. These measures include efforts to engage actors beyond the humanitarian community in the spirit of complementarity and in respect of humanitarian principles.

  • What’s new on How does law protect in war? Online: Annual update on case studies published from January to December 2017

    How Does Law Protect in War? Online is a platform adapted from the original reference Casebook published by the ICRC. It was originally intended to support teaching of international humanitarian law (IHL) in universities in an interactive way, based on contemporary practice. The section on "The Law" features a general outline presenting IHL in fourteen chapters. It contains comprehensive bibliographic resources and links each theme to a range of related case studies and documents. The section on "The Practice" comprises more than 300 case studies and documents regrouped by theme, region or type of document. They allow practice-oriented learning of IHL rules and interactive discussions through a series of questions. The "Pedagogical Resources" section provides useful advice on how to teach IHL, as well as twenty-nine model course outlines and other useful resources. The "A to Z" section presents 422 notions linked to IHL, their legal sources, the case studies where they are addressed, and bibliographic resources for delving further into those notions. A search engine allows users to find rapidly the relevant pedagogical material they need on the platform.

  • Book review: Refugees in Extended Exile: Living on the Edge

    Statistics show that long-term displacement is the new normal. In the absence of solutions to their exile, people remain trapped in permanent temporariness for years – or decades in the case of Somalians, Afghans or Palestinians. The traditional “durable solutions” bringing exile to an end are elusive: only a few hundred thousand refugees return home every year, few States hosting refugees in the global South are willing to allow them to settle permanently in their country, and less than 1% of the refugee population are being offered resettlement in a third country.
    Catherine-Lune Grayson, ICRC

  • Book review: The Arms Trade Treaty: A Commentary

    “Weapons are among man’s oldest and most significant artefacts.” This is how The Arms Trade Treaty: A Commentary (ATT Commentary) starts its historical introduction, which makes the volume immediately catch the interest of a wide range of readers and interpreters by bringing them into the journey of past and current international trade of conventional arms and its regulation.
    Margherita D’Ascanio, ICRC

  • New publications in international humanitarian law and on the International Committee of the Red Cross (Spring / Summer 2016)

    The Library of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) welcomes researchers interested in international humanitarian law (IHL) and the organization's work throughout the years. Its online catalogue is the gateway to the most recent scholarship on the subject, documents of Diplomatic and International Conferences, all ICRC publications, rare documents published between the founding of the ICRC and the end of the First World War, and a unique collection of military manuals. The Library Team also publishes research guides in order to help researchers access the full text of the most relevant and reliable sources in the field of IHL and the ICRC.