Pacific post-disaster migration and Australia?

The international community of nation-states, multilateral organisations and global not-for-profits are focused more than ever before on issues of migration. While this focus pales in comparison to trade matters, the real effort behind raising the profile of migration is heartening.

Perhaps at the forefront of this effort is the UN-hosted High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, occurring for the second time this October. While I imagine UN events are a bit stuffy, it can’t be a bad thing to focus attention across the global on issues that arise from migration, particularly how migration and development interact.

From an Australian perspective, one thing (amongst many) that stands out is the renewed concentration on migration as a tool to managing crises. The International Organisation for Migration includes this area as one of their policy proposals to the High Level Dialogue:

“Draw attention to the implications of humanitarian crises for migration and migrant populations, including in terms of protection and development. Specifically, consider the role of human mobility in disaster risk reduction strategies, disaster preparedness, national climate change adaptation programmes, and sustainable urban planning.”

At the top of the concrete proposals is using temporary and circular migration to facilitate post-crisis recovery. This isn’t a new idea. My favourite migration guru Michael Clemens has written about how this should have occurred in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in 2010.  Many people move within countries after natural disasters but few have the opportunity to cross borders.

If you combine Australia’s relative economic dominance with our geographic location, you could not find a better developed nation to be suited to implementing temporary migration for post-disaster recovery. The UN says “During the 1990s, the cost of disasters amounted to USD2.8 billion (in real 2004 value) and result in chronic shocks to economies averaging 2-7% of GDP in both disaster and non-disaster years.”

Given the fragile political conversation around any immigration policy in Australia, now may not be the right time to agitate for a policy shift such as this. However it will be too late to do anything meaningful by the time the next disaster hits.

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