Legal and Protection Policy Research Series: In Harm’s Way - International protection in the context of nexus dynamics between conflict or violence and disaster or climate change

from UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Published on 31 Dec 2018 View Original



Recent history bears witness to cross-border movements in the context of conflict and/or violence and disaster and/or the adverse effects of climate change (nexus dynamics).
Countries and regions affected range from South Sudan to Syria, the Lake Chad basin and Horn of Africa, to Central America and Haiti. Despite this reality, the recognition that multiple factors underlie human movements and the enduring relevance of refugee law for providing international protection, research examining State practice on refugee law-based international protection in the specific context of nexus dynamics is limited. The present study begins to address our knowledge gap.

This overview (which summarizes a longer report available on UNHCR’s website) sets out recommendations, based on the present study, to strengthen implementation of refugee law-based international protection when cross-border movements occur in the context of nexus dynamics. The recommendations are framed to advance reflection and discussion on legal, policy and practical solutions, against the backdrop of commitments in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Strategic Directions 2017–2021, the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, and the Global Compact on Refugees, as well as priorities outlined in the Nansen Initiative Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change.

The report describes international protection that is: (1) based on refugee law frameworks;

(2) provided by destination States; (3) to people who have crossed international borders in the context of nexus dynamics in their origin country. It does so by examining four case studies, which concern:

  1. Kenya and Ethiopia’s responses, primarily during 2011–2012, to the cross-border movement of Somalis in the context of drought, food insecurity and famine, when conflict and violence also prevailed in southern and central Somalia; and

  2. Brazil and Mexico’s responses, primarily during 2010–2012, to the cross-border movement of Haitians in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when insecurity, violence and human rights violations also prevailed in Haiti.

While not the only examples of nexus dynamics, Somalia and Haiti were selected as origin situations partly because some destination States applied refugee law frameworks to respond to cross-border movements and because regional refugee instruments were applicable. As the emphasis is on destination State responses, the report does not describe the nexus dynamics in Somalia or Haiti in detail. Each situation does represent distinct nexus dynamics. Arguably, Somalia can be characterized, in reductionist, imperfect terms, as a situation in which pre-existing conflict, and responses related to it, exacerbated the impacts of disaster and adverse effects of climate change. By contrast, Haiti can be characterized in reductionist and imperfect terms as a situation in which a disaster exacerbated pre-existing State fragility. Admittedly, the ensuing conditions in each country would have supported different scales and types of claims for refugee status.

The research was undertaken through 4- to 6-day field visits to Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil and Mexico between February and April 2018, informant and expert interviews, questionnaires to field operations, email correspondence and desk review of grey and academic literature, UNHCR documents and data. In addition, the country case studies were shared with government informants and the overall report benefited from review and comments from UNHCR staff and other experts.

The overarching purpose of the study is to provide recommendations to UNHCR,
States and others on strengthening the implementation of refugee law when crossborder movements occur in the context of nexus dynamics. Therefore, although State responses are discussed, the aim is not to explain, compare or draw causal inferences.
Rather, the report describes how refugee law frameworks featured in destination State responses in order to robustly inform recommendations to strengthen responses at national, regional and international levels.

This overview first highlights the responses of the four destination States: Kenya,
Ethiopia, Brazil and Mexico. Next, it identifies pertinent observations and their potential implications. In conclusion, it presents 12 recommendations for UNHCR,
States and others on strengthening the implementation of refugee law-based international protection in the context of nexus dynamics