Saturday, March 14, 2020

Climate Refugees Trapped

According to The International Organization for Migration's (IOM) World Migration Report 2020, disasters are now displacing more people than conflict and violence.

Centuries of patterns of human behaviour about migration is beginning to take on a different shape. Extreme weather events are becoming more common, contributing to pre-existing drivers of migration, and as temperatures worldwide rise, previous patterns of land use and habitation are becoming untenable. 

According to the European Parliament, an average of 26·4 million people around the world have been displaced by weather events every year since 2008. 

The UN estimates that there could be as many as 1 billion climate migrants by 2050. The world is unprepared to deal with a population movement on this scale, particularly with regard to migrant health.

Climate migrants, unwillingly forced from their homes by the climate emergency, are fleeing situations in which their health is put at risk, but subsequently find their health threatened by the vagaries of an international system that is struggling to keep pace with the many harmful aspects of the climate crisis. There are also people who are not displaced, but trapped, as often the most vulnerable people have the fewest resources with which to escape a situation that threatens their health. Migrants who have fled disasters are more prone to ill health, and often have left a place with a health-care system that has been badly damaged by the disaster they are fleeing.

Like refugees who flee their homes for fear of violence and persecution, climate migrants are at risk of stigma, restricted access to health care, limited access to work and the means to support themselves, and the fear of deportation back to a place that threatens their health.

The German Government said in a statement: “people in third countries who leave their homes solely because of the negative consequences of climate change are not refugees in the sense of the Geneva Refugee Convention under current international treaty law”. 

One only has to look at the difficulties encountered by Bahamian residents trying to enter the USA while fleeing Hurricane Dorian to see that governments are manifestly unprepared and unwilling to help.

As the UCL–Lancet Commission on Migration and Health highlighted, most global migration occurs in low-income and middle-income countries, even though much of the debate around migration occurs in high-income countries. High-income countries, which are better equipped to address the health of migrants, largely restrict their entry.  As occurs so often, the actions of high-income countries, in this instance their contribution to the climate crisis, impact overwhelmingly on low-income and middle-income countries.  People forced from their homes over legitimate concerns about their health find themselves at the mercy of a system that offers them no legal protections, no recompense, no health care, and no safety.

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