Climate change’s forced migration needs new solutions

The crisis responses necessary and available to refugees will not be an answer to future displacement caused by climate change, said Phil Glendenning - ERC Director, and President of the Refugee Council of Australia - today.

“The issues associated with climate change displacement are complex and need to be taken very seriously by the international community. However, while those affected by climate change may need, and should receive, international assistance, they are not refugees under international law,” RCOA President Phil Glendenning said.

Responding to an article in the UK newspaper, The Guardian, Mr Glendenning said that he has not called for those affected by climate change to be recognised as a “new category of refugee”.

“Refugee is a legal term that comes with specific rights and obligations and only applies to those who are residing outside of their country of origin and who have a well-founded fear of persecution,” he said.

“As people escaping from adverse climate effects are not being harassed or persecuted, and are usually within their country of origin, they do not qualify as refugees under current international frameworks.

“Moreover, people in affected Pacific nations do not consider themselves as future refugees and their leaders desire better answers to their concerns than traditional refugee solutions.

“While it may be seen as convenient to apply a refugee framework to people affected by climate change displacement in the Pacific, there is time to find better answers than those provided by crisis refugee solutions.”

“In my capacity as Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, I have visited Kiribati on numerous occasions to talk to senior officials and community members about their hopes for the future as they face inundation and the loss of fresh water and arable land,” Mr Glendenning said.

“Everyone in Kiribati is clear that they don’t want to be left with no option but to flee their countries in the future. The people of Kiribati reject the idea of becoming ‘climate change refugees’ because they believe that, with the right forms of international support, they have time to find better answers.

“The Government of Kiribati believes that education is critical to the future of its people, enabling them to take up the option of migrating with dignity and at the time of their choosing as skilled migrants if relocation is the best option.

“But, overwhelmingly, the i-Kiribati people want to remain where they are and are exploring options for gaining international assistance to protect islands from inundation, maintain access to clean water and food security and, where necessary, relocate within their national borders.”

“Of course, the worst-case scenario is that they may well be displaced by the impact of climate change. If that occurs, then the international community, including Australia, will need to respond to provide assistance with re-location. This would effectively represent a new form of international migration.

“However, there is still time to plan and act to prevent a crisis-like scenario occurring. International support to protect their land from inundation and to maintain food security and access to clean water would all assist. Provision for re-location is also a reality but never at the expense of very limited Refugee resettlement allocations.

“People facing displacement from climate change are not, and do not want to be regarded as refugees. If they have to, their aim is to migrate with dignity and with skills, but their deep desire is to remain in their countries. They will require new solutions, and international support, to do this.”

This is a joint release from the Edmund Rice Centre and the Refugee Council of Australia

Media contacts:-

Edmund Rice Centre: Sean Cleary 0403-434-512

Refugee Council of Australia: Andrew Williams 0488 035 535

Donate Sign up Newsroom