The lives of migrants remains a topic of interest for many geographical researchers but few look closely at the new lives that are carved out by those who have been displaced by natural disasters
The author of the paper on which this case study is based is: Lisa Hill, University of Bristol
Appeared in: Area: Volume 46, Issue 2
Reference: Hill, L. (2014) Life after the volcano: the embodiment of small island memories and efforts to keep Montserratian culture alive in Preston, Area 46:2, p146-153
The eruption of the Soufriere Hills in Montserrat began in July 1995 and lasted for nearly four years. Nineteen people were killed as a direct result of the eruption and two thirds of the islands’ 11,000 population either left of their own accord or were forcefully evacuated. Nearly four thousand of these migrants made their way to the UK and in particular to Preston, in the North West of England between July 1995 and December 1999. Many moved in with relatives who had previously emigrated during the 1950s ‘Windrush’ era, when Caribbean citizens came to the UK to fill the labour gap left by the Second World War.
The drawn out nature of the eruption, and the fact that it could not be described as one single impacting event, resulted in a different dynamic to the migration compared to other forced movements, as well as the migrants themselves feeling an unusual sense of nostalgia for their homeland compared to the feelings of loss more commonly described by migrants. Many migrants were reluctant to leave Montserrat, some living for years in temporary accommodation, such as camps and churches, in the relatively safe northern part of the island (Skelton, 2000). This had two main impacts which provide interesting geographical consequences. Firstly, there was no one single evacuation: the movements of people became drawn out over both space and time and so migrants became separated from their communities in a very scattered way, leading to particular difficulties in finding a clear sense of ’place’ within their host countries. Secondly, the migrants’ sense of loss and dislocation came in two stages – initially from their homes in the south of the island and then from the island altogether as they emigrated to the UK. This, it appeared, only served to emphasise the migrants’ sense of loss (Blunt and Dowling, 2006).
Clark (2011) notes that victims of a natural disaster can also feel an additional form of estrangement – that from the Earth as a whole – as the power of nature appears to have tried its best to remove them from it completely. This has led to some hazard refugees never forming grounded ties with the new places in which they reside as they seem unable to trust anything enough to allow it to become familiar.
The Preston Montserratians have, however, made great efforts to both set roots in their new homes and to hold onto their shared memories of where they were born, occupying a unique third position which looks both forwards and backwards (Ahmed, 2000). The post-1995 migrants have gone to great lengths to keep their Montserratian culture alive in the UK amid deep held concerns that their fellow nationals were drifting apart and losing their culture, customs, beliefs and values. Community organised events, designed to highlight shared histories and language, through features such as eating traditional food and taking part in dance performances, have allowed the Preston Montserratians to create new collective memories.
Migrants displaced by natural disasters, such as the eruption of the Soufriere Hills, also have quite a different form of nostalgia. Some Preston Montserratians experienced nostalgia for a form of life that no longer exists: the volcanic eruption and its lahars have meant that many of the migrants’ homes in the south of Montserrat have become uninhabitable or inaccessible. Instead their homesickness can become more acute as migrants know that they will never be able to return to life before the eruption (Morrice, 2006). This is especially true for Montserrat as new migrants to the island from other Caribbean nations since 1999 are rebuilding the country in a new way (Greenaway, 2011). This can influence the Montserratian migrants’ ability to form ties with their host country and a sense of ‘placelessness’ can be common.
As our vulnerability to natural hazards can be seen to be increase as a result of urbanisation and climate change, the ability of migrants to form ties with their host countries becomes an ever important dynamic within the wider management of hazards and their aftermaths.
Unless otherwise stated, all data and evidence in the above piece relates to figures taken from the original article.
Ahmed, S. (2000) Strange encounters: embodied others in post-coloniality, Routledge, London
Blunt, A. and Dowling, R. (2006) Home, Routledge, London
Clark, N. (2011) Inhumane nature: sociable life on a dynamic planet, Sage, London
Greenaway, S. (2011) Monserrat in England: dynamics of culture, iUniverse, Bloomington IL
Morrice, S. (2013) Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions, Area 45, p33-39
Skelton, T. (2000) Political uncertainties and natural disasters: Montserratian identity and colonial status , Interventions: International Journal of Post-colonial Theory 2, p103-117
A mudflow caused by erupted materials such as ash, dust and lava from a volcanic eruption mixing with water.
The movement of people in or out of a region or country.
A migrant who has moved in order to escape real or feared persecution based on their race, religion, nationality or political opinion, or to flee war or the effects of a natural hazard.
Fictional diary entries can be a good way for people to explore the idea of being a migrant. Students could write these in three parts – before they leave, their first impressions and their views five years into being in a new country. Students could choose to be from Montserrat or another area that has produced ‘hazard refugees’.
Invite someone who has migrated into the UK into school to talk to the students about their feelings of ‘home’ and what this means for them. This might be a staff member or a parent of a student. Students can formulate questions before the visit and create a timeline that shows their visitor’s feelings before, during and after migration.
Using a hazard map, students can try to predict the areas of the world that might see the greatest number of ‘hazard refugees’ in future years. Students can hypothesise where these migrants might go and what added pressures this movement may create.
British Geological Survey – Soufriere Hills
Lisa’s original article
Changing faces, shaping places
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