Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Environmentally Displaced Migrants: when a name is not a status

Never before in the history of human kind has the population doubled in just forty years. Overpopulation is probably the factor that is multiplying the catastrophic effects of climate change, causing unparalleled tension over the search for new land for people to relocate.
The looting of resources, necessary to feed the insatiable consumerism that has characterized any country in its developing process, has gone too far too fast. Today we are too many, we keep wanting more and more but we are still unable to accept the ”inconvenient truth” that only by sacrificing some and making the best of the technological and economic progress reached so far will the world population be able to avoid devastating conflicts over basic resources such as water and food.
Actually, this is already happening. Millions of people are forced to leave their land because of major environmental catastrophes exasperated by a changing climate. Human migration is nothing new and natural disasters are not a novelty of the 21st century; however, in present era these two processes have increased in quantity and frequency to such an extent that is unlikely the Earth and societies around the world will stand the present, worsening situation for much longer. “People have always fought for resources, but not to this degree.” said Michael Nash, the director of “Climate Refugees”, a documentary about the “human face” of climate change. “People have always relocated, they have always migrated. There used to be places for them to go; now these people are crossing borders and creating conflicts.”
After travelling in more than 40 countries to make this film, Michael Nash has seen with his own eyes and documented on video for his skeptical fellow citizens back home that millions of people around the world are already suffering the consequences of climate change in their daily life. “If there were a billion people on earth right now we would not be talking about climate change. It's the collision of overpopulation, over consumption, lack of resources in a changing climate that is causing all these people to relocate.” he said. 
The humanitarian consequences of climate change are creating an urgent need to react; in fact, today there are 25 to 50 million climate and environmental refugees, more than political or religious refugees. Certainly, it is necessary to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and to rely more and faster on alternative sources of energy in order to limit the damages and to buffer what seems like a hopeless situation. However, at the moment the emergency concerns the urgent need to give a legal status to these “new” migrants, people who are currently not taken into account by any of the international agreements on the protection of refugees.
“In Africa, people are crossing the Mediterranean and a lot of them are considered economic refugees, but when you dig into what caused their economy to collapse, you will find that they can no longer grow food. Either through deforestation, climate change...
I believe that when you add it all together, these people are partially economic, partially environmental refugees, and there is not a single law that gives these people protection.” Michael Nash added. Climate refugees are left at the mercy of unstable weather conditions, unstable governments and societies and not only are they ejected from their own country, but they are also rejected by all the other countries in the world because of a legal void and simple logistic reasons: how to accommodate them all? “It's a mess and nobody has a solution to this issue. For instance, what to do with an island that is mathematically going to be submerged by water in the next 20 years? Do you give its inhabitants some million dollars to buy a piece of land and move to this new property? But where? Or do you bring in engineers and start build a sea wall so that these people can live there for another 100 years?” Michael Nash argued.
The adaptation and mitigation of policies in an already very delicate and unsolved issue, namely the implementation of migrants’ and asylum seekers' rights, is creating unprecedented tensions. The lack of legal recognition has so far allowed many governments to simply ignore the problem or to tackle it as an “ordinary” matter of cyclic mass migration. Nevertheless, this is no ordinary physical process and it will reach higher and higher figures that demand imminent action.
It seems the international community is finally realizing there is a new wave of displaced people who do not fit into any category and there starts to be the need of a specific approach to this issue. In fact, the UN has recently given climate refugees an official name, baptizing them Environmentally Displaced Migrants. In our institutional system having a name is the first step towards getting recognized and acquiring an identity. However, a name does not give a status and neither does it give basic human rights. 

Article by collaborator Marcella Segre (


  1. I have come to learn about your article and quiet impressed with full of responsible environmental aspects. I believe it would be worthy for Myanmar audiences too. I would like to translate into Myanmar and post on my blog if you could kindly favor to allow. Of course, there will be a credit and courtesy link to your blog post on my translation.
    Looking forward to your favorable reply.

  2. Dear Sir/ Madam,
    May I request you to send us a link to your blog and we could take this forward.