Migration done right

In this file photo, Majuro residents take stock of the debris tossed onto the road and people’s backyards following an ocean inundation in March 2014. Photo: Isaac Marty.

Most Marshallese living in RMI will say that job opportunities, education, health or family visits are the main reasons that they leave to the United States.

But a recent survey of Marshallese to identify the “drivers” of out-migration suggests environmental factors are increasingly in the mix of reasons why people are departing the Marshall Islands.
Moreover, the new survey suggests that the Marshallese experience with migration can demonstrate to the world the positive side of migration — usually a negative development.

“While respondents expressed concern about the future impacts of climate change on the environment, livelihoods and security of their islands, these survey findings suggest that they do not at present identify these impacts as important drivers of migration,” said a policy brief published last month entitled “Marshallese perspectives on migration in the context of climate change.” It was published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as part of a policy brief series.
The authors of the survey of Marshallese said they approached the survey with the goal of providing “a more complete picture of environmental and other drivers of migration.” They did this in a number of ways, including using “focus group” discussions to look at underlying causes of migration.

“The findings confirm that education, healthcare, work and family networks are the prime drivers of Marshallese migration, but a more nuanced picture emerges for climate drivers of migration,” the report said.
The report also highlights differences among Marshallese in the RMI and in the US.

“The Marshall Islands Climate and Migration Project finds an interesting divergence in the reasons that respondent sin the Marshall Islands and in the United States cite for migration,” it said. “Many more respondents in the United States (43 percent) stated that environmental factors played a role in their decision to migrate than those in the Marshall Islands (0.6 percent).

“A reason for this divergence in findings between the Marshall Isalnds and the United States could be that Marshallese people in the United States are more exposed to media speaking of climate change impacts in the Marshall Islands. By contrast, people residing in the Marshall Islands may be not sufficiently aware of the climate risks their islands face.”
Out-migration is usually seen as negative.

“The case study findings illustrate an existential dilemma: on the one hand, it is important to be prepared for a future in which islands may become uninhabitable, and to make sure that migration and relocation tan take place in an informed, orderly manner that minimizes loss and damage. On the other hand, suggesting migration and relocation as solutions is extremely sensitive as it suggests giving up on the island.

“A majority of the survey respondents thank that it is too soon for this, and that there is still much uncertainty about the future impacts of climate change and the capacity to adapt locally. However, as this study also shows, there might be a middle ground.

Voluntary migration is already happening at a rapid pace today, and new Marshallese communities are emerging in the United States. The current migration experience that Marshallese people are gaining and the migrant networks they are building can become an important resilience asset in the future.

“Migration outcomes tend to be negative when people are forced to migrate or are displaced without enough time to adequately prepare. The Marshallese migration experience and networks can facilitate future migrations in the contest of climate change that are more proactive and planned and less forced.”

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