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Climate Refugees, the next Humanitarian Crisis by City Tech Blogger Ronaldo Carhuaricra

More than 65 million people were forced out of their homeland after the Second World War.  Today, about 25 million people are living outside of their home as refugees and asylum seekers today.  However, these numbers do not include people who are known as climate refugees. Climate refugees are considered people fleeing their homeland due to climate change.  This means that dramatic changes in their home’s climate is threatening the livelihood of their homes. Unfortunately, people fleeing their homes do not qualify as refugees because they are not fleeing wars or prosecution.  According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is considered someone who is fleeing persecution or wars. But, a person who is affected by climate change does not qualify to be considered as refugee. Based on international law, a refugee is considered only if the person is facing war or persecution, then they are entitled to a refugee status.  Thus, climate refugees do not qualify. But Is this fair?

The laws governing refugees and asylum seekers were created a long time ago when climate change was not considered a big of a problem like it is today. This law is outdated because it was written by the end of World War 2 when many people perished due to war and persecution. While it is time to update this law, it is feared that if the 1951 refugee treaty were to be opened for renegotiations, different politicians around the world will try to weaken the existing protocols and the Trump administration in the USA.  It is known the Trump Administration blocked access to refugees from eight different countries in the Middle East and Africa, especially where there is currently war and persecution going, particularly in countries like Yemen and Syria.

In the modern world, many groups of people are fleeing their home due to different reasons.  It is morally right for the wealthy nations to offer them a second chance to live or reallocate them in safer places but there is no work being done so far regarding this issue.  Based on a Columbia professor, Michael W. Doyle, who is leading the effort to propose new arrangements for this treaty, he mentions that there is no expectation for that to happen anytime soon but he insists these types of conversations should start taking place now.

Several nations in the Pacific Islands are the most vulnerable to climate change and its effects.  Most of all, these island nations are more sensitive to extreme weather such as floods, earthquakes and tropical typhoons. There are different nations in this area where climate change is forcing local people to flee their homes. The Republic of Kiribati is one of the nations being affected by climate change at this time. This island is located in the Micronesia in the central Pacific Ocean and is facing different challenges regarding climate change. This country is an archipelago and some of the local people have moved already to different areas of different islands due to the sea level rise on their homes.  In fact, the rising sea could lead to worse erosion and this would create groundwater shortages as well as expand the intervention of salt water into their freshwater supplies, which is already happening. As a result, this would make living in Kiribati expensive since treatment to purify contaminated salt water is expensive. The increase in temperature and the dramatic change in rainfall will increase the likelihood of people getting sick such as ciguatera poisoning or dengue fever. Another challenge is the raising awareness of the possible impacts of climate change to the Kiribati residents. The less informed residents living in the rural areas of the island disbelieve the impacts of climate change in their communities.  As a result, Kiribati Government has proposed different ways to deal with climate change. One is the purchase of six thousand acres in the area of Fiji in order to reallocate the population of Kiribati. It is obvious that moving the entire country to another place might not be realistic, but it will be necessary for the survival for the culture of this country. A different solution the government is trying to put in place is “Migration with Dignity”, a job training program that the government is working on. This plan would urge residents to move outside the country with qualifying skills for different types of skilled jobs. Another potential solution would be for people to migrate to wealthy nations but this is difficult since they are not considered refugees. One example is that in 2012, a migrant Kiribati worker named Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand. He said that due to the poor soil, he was unable to grow food and find freshwater due to the intrusion of saltwater. He was taken to the New Zealand court for overstaying his visa. His lawyer Michael Kidd compared two important points where environmental and political refugees are totally inconsistent and when it comes to refugee status, he said, “You are either a refugee or you are not”.  Consequently, the court rejected his case and Mr.Teitiota was deported to Kiribati but he appealed his case to the Office of The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is expected that climate change will impact the status of being a refugee in the future.

In conclusion, I feel the need to spread awareness about this issue. It is shocking that the current US administration is doing very little to solve the potential climate refugee issue.  In fact, The US administration withdrew from the Paris Climate agreement, a morally wrong decision, since the US is responsible for more than a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions today.  Unfortunately, the excuse for the US withdrawal from this agreement was that claim that the agreement was killing of American jobs and it places an unfair burden for the President since jobs is a main priority for the US president. This treaty sets boundaries on Global Greenhouse gas emission and, in some cases, it can block the creation of American jobs in different factories throughout the USA. The best solution for this issue is global thinking on the part of the US administration. Since climate change is a global issue, global leadership is necessary but it is lacking at this moment. The resident of Kiribati blames the US for the change in climate in his home but until the US becomes more aware of its actions, Kiribati has no option other than to seek shelter somewhere else

Please watch this excellent video documenting the current life of a climate change refugee.

 

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  1. Hi Ronaldo. I definitely agree with you and you actually raised my awareness of this issue. In fact, I used to think of Refugees as a group of people who are fleeing dangerous places due to wars or persecution such as people migrating from Syria or Venezuela but in fact, your point of climate refugees makes me more aware about potential issues. I think one of the reasons why I used to think refugees were from those countries is because of the recent migrant crisis such as in Europe or South America. I also noticed that climate refugees are not as trending as a typical refugee portrayed in the media and this makes me wonder why?. The term for climate refugee should be addressed and more citizens should be aware of this very real crisis since it will be more common in the near future. I think the UN should open new discussions about this term for refugees and create restrictions so different worldwide politicians does not try to weaken the protocols for refugees in future meetings. The term for refugee was defined right after world war two, where millions of people perished due to war and persecution but this did not include the new types of refugees that would be coming going up in the future. This makes me think of where I come from in China and this is because of the high levels of air pollution in cities such as Beijing or Shanghai. Since many cities are expanding throughout China and more people are living in cities due to their economic growth, more of these cities need more resources such as energy. As a result, there has been an increase of emissions of air pollutants due to the new factories opened around these cities. Air pollution has become a nationwide issue in China and different health issues are affecting vulnerable people in megacities such as the elderly and the children. I totally agree with you about raising everyone’s awareness so it is known that if we do not act now, more people will be affected and create a potential humanitarian crisis in the future. I am afraid this issue might lead to a migrant movement within China since the type of people who are vulnerable to air pollution will be forced to leave their homes in cities affected by air pollution and they will be forced to move to cleaner cities that are less affected by air pollution. However, China has a population issue and most people prefer to live closer to cities due to the high levels of opportunities and prosperity. This could lead to different Chinese citizens fleeing and moving abroad but not for job opportunities but just for healthier living conditions.
    I think everyone deserves to have a second chance to relocate and have a better life, especially in the case of Loane Teitota from the Republic of Kiribati and The New Zealand government. When his asylum petition was rejected due to the fact he is not considered a refugee due to international law’s definition of who is entitled to a Refugee states, it makes me feel like this is not fair. I feel empathetic by the fact that his home was affected by climate change especially because of the poor soil due to the overflow of seawater into different farms that made it difficult for him to prosper and grow plants in the Republic of Kiribati, his home. Nevertheless, the Republic of Kiribati will not be the only nation under this threat and possibly more islands around the Pacific ocean will be affected. Just imagine, New Zealand will not be the only nation dealing with potential asylum seekers from different countries around, and Pacific/Asian wealthy nations such as Japan or Australia will have to deal with this potential issue due to its proximity to those islands. Then, what is being done so far? Nothing as far as I read but also I did my own research, I think the time to act is now but with nations like the US where the government does not consider climate change a top priority, nothing will be done for now. I was able to watch the video documentary from the blog and I totally agree that the US is one of the nations at fault and the fact that they decide to step out of the Paris Climate agreement makes me angry at the government who is running the country where I am living. The current US President is putting at risk the lives of countless people living abroad in vulnerable islands around Micronesia as well as the rest of the Oceania continent. The decision of the US is basically increasing the chances of a massive migration from the local people to places less affected by climate change and affect other nations.

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