A woman wades through clogged tidal water after the cyclone Sitrang in Kalapara, Bangladesh on October 25, 2022 | Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/ AFP
A woman wades through clogged tidal water after the cyclone Sitrang in Kalapara, Bangladesh on October 25, 2022 | Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/ AFP

The International Centre for Climate Change and Development says governments should create a legal status for those displaced due to climate change and help shift public attitudes toward refugees.

In the face of rising global temperatures, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) predicts the number of "environmental migrants" in 2050 could be between 25 million and 1 billion.

Millions of climate migrants are expected to move to Europe as they seek to escape dire economic conditions aggravated by floods, drought, destruction of natural resources, and other adverse effects of climate change.

Some experts say Europe should take action by establishing jurisdiction to give protection to those displaced by climate change.

"The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a status for political refugees who cross borders, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has a status for migrants who are not refugees, but neither of them have a status for climate refugees," said Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD).

"In each of these arenas, there is talk about creating a status to recognize climate refugees, but it’s just that- talk and no action."

Lack of legal options

Climate change refugees risk slipping through the cracks, having no rights nor legal migration options.

"Certain environmental migrants could request for asylum due to the inertia of their country of origin to prevent environmental catastrophes, but no candidate has ever received refugee status on this basis," wrote Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, senior research fellow at CNRS in the book 'Representations of the Other, Perceptions of the migrant in France, 1870-2022'.

Last year, the European Union saw the highest number of unauthorized migrant entries since 2015 which has put a strain on hosting capacities.

Some specialists say governments should rely on civil society leaders to facilitate the integration of newcomers. Drawing upon values of shared humanity will be crucial to preparing societies for an influx of refugees, wrote Ibrahim Ozdemir, a consultant to the United Nations.

Moral obligation

Part of the challenge might require "overcoming the idea that we belong to a particular land and that it belongs to us. We will need to assimilate into globally diverse societies, living in new, polar cities," as the environmental journalist Gaia Vince wrote.

Asking Europeans to embrace a this idea might be problematic as nationalism and far-right political parties are on the rise on the continent. If the global South is suffering the consequences of climate change, does the global North have a moral obligation to help refugees from the South in the name of climate justice?

"Absolutely," said Huq, "it has a responsibility that it doesn’t want to accept." 

He noted, however, that the establishment of a loss and damage fund during the COP27 hosted by Egypt in Sharm el-Sheikh last November was "a sign of progress". The theme of loss and damage, with the idea being to compensate developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change for their losses, was a highlight of the COP27.


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