Climate refugees. The World Economic Forum calls them ‘The World’s Forgotten Victims’ and we wonder if it is because there is no one to blame for their setbacks but us, human beings. So who are climate refugees?
We understand the term ‘refugee’ as someone who has left their home country for another in order to escape from war, persecution, etc. In this case, a climate refugee can be understood as someone who has been displaced from their homes due to the negative effects of climate change, with causes ranging from floods and storms to fire and droughts. The term first came from the mass movement and migration of people from weather disasters. However, the UN Refugee Agency does not encourage the term ‘climate refugees’ and would instead prefer “people displaced in the contexts of disasters and climate change.”
On the question of where they come from, the majority of them usually come from rural areas and island nations due to sea-level rise. The sea level rise could potentially lead to coastal flooding with contributions from several factors such as regular storms, subsidence, erosion, and more. An example would be the people from the Isle de Jean Charles being forced to move due to risks of their home being flooded. In rural areas, people have to move due to “climate-sensitive sectors” as many situated in the areas rely on agriculture and fishing, but if the environment is deteriorating, work opportunities won’t be as promising or they have to flee because of a downgrade in their living environment. Others would include indigenous communities. According to the World Economic Forum, the number of people living in coastal areas at high risk of rising sea levels has increased from 160 million to 260 million, 90% of whom are from poor developing countries and small island states.
In a Sky News documentary on Bangladesh’s climate refugees, we can see that many of those affected are living in poor conditions in shacks that aren’t able to care for large families. Nevertheless, they aren’t able to move because the government isn’t paying enough attention to them and they have nowhere else to live with nothing to do since they were farmers and fishermen.
As a result, what can we do? It’s simple, the first thing we do is to reduce our environmental footprint but that’s not as simple as it sounds. We could support organisations like Climate Refugees through donating to fund their case studies, signing their petitions which demand for governments to pass acts that don’t restrict refugees and immigrants, and hosting events that the organisation can help with like hosting a panel or writing a letter. Furthermore, you can support refugee-led organisations like Urban Refugees who led an incubation program providing tools, training, and resources to other refugee-led organisations for ‘delivering improved services to their communities’. You could also support indigenous leadership in your area or you could start your own project where you could communicate with nearby indigenous communities and discuss over drafting a risk reduction plan or cooperating to speak with your local government. Lastly, the most important thing you could do is to welcome these refugees and make them feel at home.
If there’s anything you can pick up from this article is that climate change is real, and it has already started its influence.