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TOP 10 MIGRATION ISSUES OF 2005
Issue #10: Record Numbers Displaced by Natural Disasters
Tsunami victims in Sri Lanka receive non-food relief packages at a UNHCR distribution center in January.
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 US 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
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. US 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
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
Spotlight on Foreign Born in Areas Affected by Hurricanes Katrina
Aftermath of Katrina Affects Immigration Enforcement
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