Whether or not they are a proven consequence of climate change, many of us witness or experience weather patterns that are different from those of three decades ago. Extreme rain fall leading to floods and mud slides such as in Pakistan and China in 2010, or severe droughts causing famine in Somalia last year and hunger today in Sahel countries such as Niger and Chad are but a few examples of changes in the weather that threaten people around the world in their very existence. When faced with such calamities, people who are forced to leave their homes for the sake of their survival and safety become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) – both are victims of environmentally-induced migration (EIM).
Rising sea-levels are another cause of environmentally-induced migration. Think, for example, of the people whose small island nations are literally sinking and disappearing from the face of the earth. Low-lying coastal regions and small islands in the Pacific Ocean are particularly vulnerable, while the island nation of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean might be submerged altogether by 2100.
The international community has not come up yet with the appropriate legal language necessary to protect and assist this new group of displaced persons who lose the territory of their country due to rising sea-levels … they don’t fit the existing legal definitions of ‘refugees,” nor are they stateless, so what are they? And more importantly, who comes to their aid in time of real need?
As we remember the many displaced throughout the world on World Refugee Day (June 20), I invite you to explore the website of the UN refugee agency UNHCR. This rich site has a video and photo gallery, offers the opportunity to browse the site by country, and lists events around the world for this year’s commemoration of World Refugee Day.
Cecile Meijer, rscj