Vulnerability and Capacities of International Students in the Face of Disasters in Auckland, New Zealand: a Qualitative Descriptive Study

Thorup-Binger, Christian
Charania, Nadia
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Master of Emergency Management
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Auckland University of Technology

Background: Voluntary cross-national migration is a phenomenon worldwide, with an increased presence of international students (i.e., short-term migrants) residing and studying in host countries for limited periods of time. Despite New Zealand’s geographical isolation, it has also experienced an increase in international students, with Auckland being the region where international students are primarily located. Along with the increased movements of migrants, an awareness of migrants’ specific vulnerability and capacities in face of disasters has arisen. Migrants residing in host countries are at risk in the event of a disaster because their vulnerability including language barriers, weak social ties, and socio-economic inequities can become amplified, leading to migrants’ being disproportionately affected by disasters. Nevertheless, migrants also possess capacities that should be leveraged in the event of a disaster. Even though migrants’ vulnerability and capacities have been documented, knowledge of short-term migrants’ vulnerability and capacities in the face of disasters is still limited. The purpose of this research is to add to the existing limited research in this field with a specific focus on describing and exploring the vulnerability and capacities of international students in the event of a disaster.

Methods: To address the purpose of the research, a qualitative descriptive study informed by an interpretive paradigm was conducted. Semi-structured interviews with ten international students and four key informants were conducted in Auckland to collect data. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The collected data were thematically analysed, with preliminary findings being checked by participants.

Results: Four major themes were generated: “daily challenges”, “well-being”, “seeking information and support” and “disaster (un)awareness”, with 15 supporting sub-themes. Findings showed that international students experienced challenges related to language barriers, adjusting to living in a host country and socialising, though it was clear that students proactively sought to overcome these adversities. International students were aware of balancing academic and social life, and how this supported a sense of well-being, though challenges of belonging were also experienced, and seen by key informants to increase international students experienced adversity in adjusting to living in the host country. International students showed a diverse use of media and awareness of supporting services, while key informants emphasised the need for international students themselves to contribute to solving challenges. International students expressed a diverse perception of disasters, though Auckland and New Zealand were predominantly viewed as organised and safe places to live, which influenced international students’ assumptions about the government’s and tertiary institutions’ abilities to provide adequate support in the event of a disaster.

Conclusions: This study contributes to the understanding of short-term migrants’ vulnerability and capacities in the event of disasters. Key implications for policy and practice are the need for governments and tertiary education institutions to increase their focus and include short-term migrants in disaster risk reduction planning, while strengthening international students’ awareness of and accessibility to information about local hazards, preparedness, and existing disaster and emergency policies and practices.

Vulnerability , Capacity , Disaster risk reduction , International students , Migration , Auckland , New Zealand , Qualitative
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