Europe, where is that status for climate refugees?

The earth is warming up, drying out, salinizing, impoverishing, radicalising… In short, we are dealing with climate change. It has a huge impact on the quality of life in our place of residence. Farmlands, towns, cities and entire regions are suffering from these extreme changes, which will soon grip our entire planet. The current impact of climate change is therefore difficult to measure and interpret in precise numbers. After all, it is a hugely expansive, complicated and wicked challenge.

From climate change, to climate flight

Meanwhile, thousands and millions of people have already had to leave their homes or areas due to extreme weather conditions such as unrelenting drought and devastating floods. (Shah Azhar, 2017) Salinization, depletion and pollution play a huge role in affecting our agriculture, our largest food producer. Where it is not possible to grow and eat, there is no living. The only question is when the number of climate refugees will touch the billion.

The climate case-Teitiota

The Teitiota case is a prime example. He and his family are some of the victims of climate change that were literally on their lips. The water level has already risen sharply in recent years, which could quickly mean the death penalty for small islands. (Nath, 2017).

Teitiota was sent back to Kiribati, the island from which he had fled, due to insufficient evidence that his situation was sufficiently personal and specific to his family. (O’Sullivan, 2020) A ridiculous argument. If this situation also applies to the rest of the people of Kiribati, then more attention should be paid to this inhumane situation instead of ignoring the issue in its entirety.

If Teitiota cannot count on the protection and reception he deserves in his own country after losing his place of residence, the responsibility of the country of origin is quickly pointed out. In the case of Teitiota, the Human Rights Committee decided that the island of Kiribati would not be completely uninhabitable for 10 or 15 years and until then these problems could be dealt with internally or even prevented. (O’Sullivan, 2020) The government should undoubtedly first and foremost receive its own citizens displaced by natural disasters, but what happens if this government and its international community around it cannot (or cannot) do that? Are we still talking about a climate refugee? You can already sense that it is a complex issue, including from a legal point of view, despite the existence of the Human Rights Convention.

Where is that statute?

The climate problem will be the overarching problem and challenge in the near future. Many global conflicts have already been caused by the climate crisis. At the moment people can (usually) still count on social protection within their own country. But if entire areas have to migrate because of a large increase in uninhabitable areas, then this will go completely wrong. Are we going to run after the facts and come up with a status for climate refugees when the need is greatest? Or should we now consider implementing such a statute, so that we can think ahead and refine where necessary? For me the answer is clear…

Taking responsibility for the solution

I would like to remind Europe and its Member States of the responsibility they have to provide social protection not only for (climate) refugees from its peripheries, but also from beyond. The poorest countries are often the biggest victims of the climate crisis, while the share of such poor countries in this crisis is relatively small. Europe’s share of climate change, on the other hand, is very large, but like the US we are even more inclined to put up more fences and barbed wire to keep this self-induced climate displacement outside our borders. (Harmsen, 2021) In addition, developing countries, much more than wealthy countries, have even more serious concerns to worry about than just climate change. Firstly, there is therefore a need for more international solidarity, development aid and international refugee work. Second, governments need to make their spending on the social protection of displaced persons more selective and targeted. While protective services for migrants just need to become more universal, or more easily accessible for those who normally just fall by the wayside here. (Faist, 2017) Finally, I argue in favor of an international refugee status for climate displaced persons, as the current legal framework for this group is clearly still a struggle.

Image by ELG21 from Pixabay

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