Diaspora actors can improve emergency effectiveness
Migration is one of the defining features of our current era; and as migrant and refugee communities establish in new locations we are witnessing the emergence of active and thriving diasporas. For example, well-known and long-established diasporas originate from the Philippines and India, there are sizeable Nigerian and Somali diasporas with large populations in the UK and USA, and an emerging Syrian diaspora. Defined as “a particular national community that has undergone dispersion, taken active steps to preserve their identity as a distinctive community and have an ongoing orientation towards the homeland” (Will Jones, 2016), diasporas are transnational entities that contribute to their countries of origin and settlement. Diaspora remittances are a significant financial source that contribute to development and poverty reduction (Migration Policy Institute 2004; World Bank 2015). Beyond remittances, the role of diaspora organisations has emerged as a key part of humanitarian action.
“Diasporas are already effectively connecting the humanitarian sector with local actors. We can assist in providing cultural knowledge, language and trust …We can also participate in identifying sustainable methods for people to move from a position of resilience to improved sustained livelihoods” - Mr Ade Daramy, Chair - Sierra Leone UK Diaspora Ebola Response Taskforce.
Diasporas as Humanitarian Actors
Diaspora organisations are multi-sectoral, fast responding, humanitarian actors who work transnationally including in countries facing humanitarian crises. Having a connection and understanding of their home country plays a role vital in humanitarian relief and assistance where diaspora organisations are often the first international responders in the aftermath of a disaster. They may also be the first to raise the alarm in times of crisis, as was the case for the Sierra Leonean diaspora in the UK at the outset of Ebola in their home country that led to the creation of the Diaspora Ebola Task Force (AFFORD, 2016). In hard-to-reach places where access may be an issue, diaspora organisations have a unique advantage due to local connections and ties. For example, in Syria 75% of all aid is being delivered through local organisations many of which are supported by diaspora groups (Overseas Development Institute, 2015).
“Humanitarians should engage diaspora communities more, as they could provide important links and insights, particularly in countries where international actors have a limited presence” - Global Humanitarian Policy Forum (2013)
Mobilising diasporas in humanitarian relief
To date, diaspora action has occurred largely in parallel with traditional mechanisms to coordinate and track humanitarian action, a concern that led to the establishment of the Diasporas for Emergency Action and Coordination (DEMAC) Project, funded by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. Since DEMAC commenced in June 2015 there has been an increased recognition of the strength and contribution that diasporas make, a clearer picture of their implementation modalities documented, and concrete steps made to bridge gaps in knowledge, perception and coordination through seminars and information exchanges. DEMAC served as a conduit for diaspora voices at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016, resulting in fifty-one diaspora organisations committing to a set of principles to enhance their role as a bridge to serve populations affected by humanitarian crises. But there is more to be done.
Diaspora’s Place in an Enhanced International Humanitarian System
Building on the successes of its first seventeen-months of implementation, DEMAC partners are rolling out a continuation of the project. DEMAC II will focus on operationalising key recommendations specifically related to coordination, information-exchanges and training so diaspora organisations can coordinate with systems including those led by UNOCHA and other coordination bodies. With an emphasis on man-made humanitarian crises, DEMAC will build on existing links made during phase I to harness opportunities for genuine sustainable collaboration of diaspora humanitarians with institutional responders on a structural level and develop partnerships between diaspora organisations and other humanitarian actors