While the world’s migration lens has rightly been focused on the Mediterranean over the last week, migration has also been in the headlines in South Africa, where at least seven people have been killed in xenophobic attacks on migrant workers during the last month.
This is not the first time foreign nationals have been attacked in South Africa – there was an even more deadly spate of attacks in May 2008 that displaced hundreds of thousands. But this is not only a South African problem. During the last decade migrant workers have also been subjected to violence in Cote d’Ivoire, for example. In Syria Iraqi refugees have been attacked and forced back home. In other cases migrant workers have been displaced from their homes by conflict, in Lebanon and Libya, and by natural disaster, in Thailand.
There are about 240 million migrants in the world today, comprising around one in every 33 people on earth. And increasingly they are moving between countries of the Global South, rather than from South to North. This means that more migrants are living and working in more unstable areas.
Where they find themselves in situations of conflict, violence or disaster, migrants are often even more in need of assistance and protection than nationals. They may not speak the local language or understand the culture, they may lack job security, and they may lack a social safety net. Such vulnerabilities are heightened for irregular migrants.
Yet there is no international framework for protecting or assisting non-citizens in these situations. The rights of non-citizens caught up in crises are not explicitly stated in existing laws, conventions, or standards. Instruments that cover displacement do not deal with non-citizens; whilst those that cover non-citizens do not deal with displacement. Neither is responsibility for protecting and assisting non-citizens clearly ascribed.
Seven steps are required to enhance national and international responses:
First, more research and better data collection is needed to establish the extent to which non-citizens face particular vulnerabilities.
Second, where new standards on rights or displacement are developed or updated, they should make explicit reference to the rights of non-citizens and responsible parties.
Third, more states should be encouraged to develop national laws and policies on rights of internally displaced persons, including non-citizens.
Fourth, greater capacity is required within new destination countries for migrants in the Global South to protect and assist them during crises, ranging from establishing a response framework, to a clear allocation of responsibilities, to consultation with affected populations.
Fifth, countries of origin with large overseas worker populations should develop standard operating procedures to evacuate them during crises.
Sixth, corporations that employ significant numbers of overseas nationals should develop standard operating procedures on protecting and evacuating workers.
Finally, contingency planning should take place at a bilateral and regional level to ensure effective cooperation between states during evacuation of non-citizens from crisis situations.
Author: Khalid Koser is Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund and a member of the Global Agenda Council on Migration
Image: Foreign men stand in a queue to register with immigration officials at a camp for those affected by anti-immigrant violence in Isipingo south of Durban, April 22, 2015. REUTERS/Rogan Ward