Even the most vulnerable communities can be resilient in the face of disaster

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Immigrants and refugees may be simultaneously vulnerable and resilient in the face of disasters like the 2011 Canterbury and Tohoku (Japan) earthquakes, new research from New Zealand suggests. Refugees and immigrants who don’t speak the local language are already in a vulnerable position in society, but the authors believe their resilience comes from the everyday inequalities they confront, as well previous experience of war and natural disasters. An Afghani refugee living in Canterbury noted that “oh, well, at least… nobody is shooting at us”, but she also mentioned that for some, further traumatic experiences after their previous hardships only exacerbated their vulnerability.

Journal/conference: International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

Organisation/s: University of Auckland

Funder: This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or no-for-profit sectors.

Media Release

From: Elsevier

Vulnerable and resilient? Immigrants and refugees in the 2010–2011 Canterbury and Tohoku disasters


This article explores how immigrants and refugees, who are linguistic minorities, experienced the 2010–2011 disasters in Canterbury, New Zealand and Tohoku, Japan. The focus is on their perceived social vulnerabilities and resilience to disasters. Previous research has found that linguistic minority immigrants and refugees are socially vulnerable as they occupy a position of relative deprivation compared to majority groups.

However, findings drawn from in-depth interviews demonstrate the fluid, complex and contextual nature of social vulnerabilities in disasters, suggesting that people may be simultaneously vulnerable and resilient. Their resilience arises partly from the everyday inequalities that they already confront, and partly because of previous experiences of disasters. Wars, conflicts, displacement and everyday hardships have given them “earned strength”. We supplement this concept with work on social capital to help disaster researchers re-conceptualize both the social vulnerability approach and its connections to disaster resilience thinking.


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