IOM and OECS launch project to address human mobility & climate change in Eastern Caribbean

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have achieved another milestone in a growing partnership which began in 2016.   On Wednesday 30 September 2020, the two organizations hosted the virtual launch of a new 15-month project which will support a regional dialogue to address human mobility and climate change in the Eastern Caribbean.

Over 40 government stakeholders in the areas of environment, immigration, statistics, agriculture and climate change from the six independent member states of the OECS (Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) attended the virtual event.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, Regional Director of IOM’s Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, Michele Klein-Solomon noted that there is now little to no debate that climate change is increasing both the intensity and the frequency of extreme events. As such, States have developed and approved frameworks such as the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM) at the global level, which provide pointers which need now to be converted into concrete actions at national and regional levels.

 “In vulnerable countries such as those in the Eastern Caribbean, migration practitioners cannot develop policies anymore without considering inputs from climate projections. At the same time, climate strategies and interventions must integrate the situation of populations that are affected by climate change and who need to leave their communities of origin to survive and lead productive lives”, Klein-Solomon stated.

Dr. Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS referred to the ongoing collaboration between the OECS and IOM, geared at strengthening the region’s resilience and support attainment of the OECS Commission’s agenda and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s)[1].  He drew attention to the connection between human mobility and climate change that was clearly demonstrated by the displacement of OECS citizens from Barbuda and Dominica in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the importance of the OECS provisions for free movement of persons in facilitating the region’s response.

“… Dominicans were able to take advantage of their indefinite stay arrangement in other economic union member states to seek temporary and in some cases permanent relocation, and in the process, access social services and available employment. (…) On the other side of the crisis, other OECS nationals were able to exercise their rights to freedom of movement to temporarily relocate to the Commonwealth of Dominica to support the rebuilding efforts,Dr. Jules explained.

He also acknowledged some of the lessons learned, and the need to enhance the data and evidence gathered during such crises to inform policy and regional response to future crises.

The reality of climate refugees and migration on account of disaster and climate change is that, in the case of Dominica, many of the Dominicans who moved to the other OECS countries moved without any form of identification.  While our regime requires that you have a government-issued picture ID and you are allowed the free movement, persons came with sometimes just the clothes on their backs, such was the extent of the devastation,” Dr. Jules added.

He said enhancing data needs in the area of migration management will allow for better decision making as member states consolidate the benefits of the Free Movement of Persons regime. 

“In particular, data on the uptake of the regime, in terms of the numbers of persons who migrated due to environmental migration, where they migrated to, the extent to which they were able to access social support services and employment, the extent to which they were able to integrate into the host OECS member states, to name but a few of the data needs, will help a long way  in strengthening policy responses to environmental migration at both the national and regional levels,the OECS Director General remarked.

Head of Office of IOM Dominica, Natasha Greaves, re-emphasized the need to integrate environmental factors across all areas of migration management, including preparedness and response to displacement, labour migration and border management.   She took the time to explain how the project will be implemented.

Our aim is to assess the national data systems in each of the countries under the project which will be used to provide targeted solutions to develop capacities of national stakeholders on data collection and management.  Thereafter, our team will work with national practitioners to create technical guidelines to inform the revised processes and systems. Already, through our Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), a team of experts and researchers have started this assessment.

“Leading up to the end of the project implementation we plan to host a series of national workshops where we can have discussions on the status of data collection and management regarding environmental migration in each country. It is our hope to culminate the months’ work of research, discussions, and analysis with a regional conference where we can identify best practices and design a roadmap for enhanced cooperation among the Eastern Caribbean States.”

Interim CEO of the Climate Resilience Execution Agency for Dominica (CREAD), Francine Baron gave the feature address on behalf of the Chairman of the OECS, the Hon. Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit. Miss Baron referred to the vulnerability of the Caribbean to extreme weather events, particularly hurricanes.  She also noted the historic tendency of people to migrate after extreme weather events.

She pointed out that while the majority of people who left Dominica after Hurricane Maria for various reasons – to seek medical care, manage risks, continue schooling and to secure livelihoods left through official ports, some also left through unofficial ports, without proper documentation and in unsafe conditions, making it difficult to get a full picture of how many people in fact left, and where they went to, and how many returned.

“Based on a study undertaken by IOM, of A Review of Post-Hurricane Maria Migration, it found that while a precise figure could not be given of how many people migrated after Maria, and how many returned between the period September 19 2017 and February 28 2018, 42 thousand people left Dominica and just over 38 thousand travelled to Dominica within the same period,” Baron revealed.

The majority of the arrivals appeared to be returning nationals.

Baron outlined Dominica’s strategic approach to recovery and resilience based n a solid development framework, anchored in a resilient and sustainable development vision to socially, environmentally and economically transform Dominica by 2030.

She said this is contained within Dominica’s National Resilience Development Strategy, which was published in 2018 and factors more firmly, climate and non-climate considerations in the development process.  It increases the probability of attaining key development objectives of economic growth, employment generation, poverty reduction, social protection, and overall improvement in the quality of life of our citizens.

“With the assistance of our Climate Resilience Execution Agency CREAD, Dominica has rolled out a plan to effect our strategy, that contains among other things, 20 resilience targets, which we aim to achieve by 2030, to deliver a climate resilient Dominica.  The government has already embarked on a series of initiatives that are designed to minimize the impact of disaster on our population, and so reduce the need for people to migrate after a disaster or in response to other ill-effects of climate change.  In Dominica for example, the government committed after Maria in 2017, to building five thousand climate resilient homes.  Thousands of people have been rehoused so far, in newly constructed homes that are built to standards to resist hurricanes and earthquakes, and to allow them to enjoy basic services of water and electricity with minimal destruction after a storm.  Some communities have been relocated to safer areas and others are scheduled to be relocated.  Public infrastructure that is being built or renovated are being done to improve the resilience standards.  The IT infrastructure and utility sector is being improved.  Work is ongoing to strengthen communities and diversify and strengthen our economic sectors.  Special attention is being placed on improving our health and education system and on expanding skill sets and opportunities for job creation, particularly within the digital economy space.  This is being approached in a holistic way, to minimize the effects of adverse events on our populace and therefore reduce the “pull” or desire to migrate.”

She recognized the significance and timeliness of the project and expressed appreciation to all involved:

“This regional dialogue that is being convened as part of this project is not only timely, but a necessity.  The strengthening of our capacities to develop data collection and manage data will help inform the decisions and interventions that our governments make as we seek to respond to the harmful effects of climate change.  Understanding our vulnerability to climate change, particularly as it precipitates disaster-induced migration, and gaining insights as to how it impacts the population, and how it causes internal and external displacement, is critical.  Approaching this serious issue as a region is important, as we face similar challenges as small island developing states located within the hurricane belt and who are also vulnerable to earthquakes and other hazards.   It will help strengthen our collaboration, facilitate the sharing of best practices, and lead to the development of common policies and guidelines, particularly as relates to handling migration, whether it’s in respect of properly documenting migrants, having support systems in place for them, and dealing with those who are vulnerable as well as addressing security issues. 

We therefore thank profusely the German government, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the International Organization for Migration, and the OECS Secretariat, for collaborating and supporting what is an important project for our member states.”

IOM and its Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) will be working closely with the OECS Commission and key stakeholders in each of the member states to ensure that at the end of the project in 2021, policymakers in the six participating member states will benefit from enhanced data and evidence regarding environmental migration.   Initially, much of the national engagement will be implemented virtually due to the risks and inconvenience of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team is hopeful that the final regional conference will be able to be hosted in-person.  Ultimately, the regional dialogue that will be established is expected to strengthen cooperation nationally and regionally thanks to the analysis of national data systems, capacity-building of national stakeholders, sharing of best practices, development of regional guidelines, and the collaborative and participative development of a roadmap for regional cooperation on environmental migration and security issues.

For more information on this project, IOM or its work contact IOM Dominica Communications Officer at [email protected] / (767) 275-3225 or the IOM mission at [email protected]  / (767) 285-0794


[1] This project contributes to SDG #13 and SDG #16


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1 Comment

  1. Roger Burnett
    October 5, 2020

    Throughout history and throughout the world the principal reason why people migrate is to seek opportunities that are not available in their home land. Family ties, a house, land and possessions won’t hold them if there is not the means of gainful employment. For the region in general, and Dominica in particular, that is the crux of the matter.

    Freedom of expression is also a contributing factor.

    Climate change and pandemics are nothing new, they have been with us since the beginning of time. Man recovers and adapts, with or without conferences and committee meetings.

    I apologize for appearing unprofessional by omitting the word “stakeholders” in the above.

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