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Climate Refugees

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Displacement caused by climate change is an everyday occurrence in many parts of the world. According to UNHCR, there has been an annual average of 21.5m people displaced by weather-related events since 2008. However, despite the scale of the situation, there is still no uniform legal definition for these people.⁣

UNHCR proposed a very accurate description of "persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change"; however, it is too long-winded for everyday vocabulary.⁣

The terms "climate refugee" and "climate migrant" are often argued, though the lack of an agreed and appropriate term also causes a lack of legal resolutions. The only legislation referring to environmental displacement is the 1969 refugee convention of The Organisation of African Unity, which protects those "fleeing events seriously disturbing public order." It was applied to host Somalians in Kenya and Ethiopia during the droughts and famine crisis in 2010.⁣

An appropriate solution is adapting the existing migration laws to fit the context of the climate crisis, as creating brand new legal resolutions requires solid political support, which is unlikely at this time.⁣

Another criticism is the inclusion of everyone migrating as a result of climate change under one umbrella term when the climate crisis clearly shows the global inequalities of our society. After all, is it fair to call the Afghan refugees who flee from flooding in Pakistan and the Californians escaping wildfires "climate refugees" without acknowledging their unequal role in contributing to climate change and unequal means to deal with the disasters happening in their regions?⁣

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