9:00 am EDT - 10:30 am EDT

Past Event

Responding to Migration in Humanitarian Emergencies

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9:00 am - 10:30 am EDT

The Brookings Institution
Kresge Room

1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

This discussion examined the challenges of managing migration and displacement in humanitarian emergencies. Humanitarian crises often spur significant movements of populations, both internally and across borders. The scale, speed and complexity of displacement can overwhelm national capacities to respond, and test the ability of humanitarian organizations to respond rapidly. With this in mind, Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow and co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, welcomed the keynote speakers and the audience of researchers and policymakers from a variety of disciplines to the discussion.

Following the opening remarks, Khalid Koser, nonresident senior fellow at Brookings Institution and head of the New Issues in Security Programme at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and Susan Martin, director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, discussed themes and case studies from their new edited volume The Migration-Displacement Nexus: Patterns, Processes, and Policies. The book examines the challenges of responding to complex flows of migrants and displaced people.

Khalid Koser addressed how recent events in Libya illustrate the migration-displacement nexus, and paid particular attention to the absence of a legal and normative framework for protecting migrant workers who become displaced. According to Koser, there are three lessons for the future to be learned from the Libyan crisis:

  1. International organizations should adopt a flexible approach to new categories of migrants;
  2. National laws and policies should become more robust; and
  3. There should be an increased response on the regional level.

Susan Martin remarked on the multiple factors that influence why and how a person migrates, ranging from economic opportunity to political unrest to climate change, and how it is increasingly difficult to distinguish them. These complex forms of migration expose gaps in the existing institutional arrangements and legal frameworks, for example for people who cross international borders in order to escape the effects of environmental change. At the policy level, where the most work needs to be done, there is a patchwork system. Martin characterized the current approach to migration and displacement as one of benign neglect.

The concluding conversations with the audience focused on the issues of protracted displacement, protection of third country nationals and urban internally displaced persons and overall, highlighted the enormous challenges in responding to displacement and large scale migration.