A ’new’ refugee

Environment Refugee - Inside Scandinavian Business

writer icon Dion te Riele     Manne   |   Culture     🕐 31. Oct. 2017

It is a regular day. It is typical Swedish weather. The sun shines, but in ten minutes it may rain. In the meantime, I am watching the news channel. Once again, the same subjects are presented: IS and the refugee ‘problem’ in the world. It almost seems as there are no other refugees in the world than war or political refugees.

The taking shelter of these refugees does not go smoothly. It seems like ‘we’ already struggle to deal with a relatively small group of refugees seeking safety. Next to that, within the shelter facilities human rights violations occur on a daily basis. This gives reasons for concern.

It is all the more important that the United Nations and Europe should reconsider their policies in the field of refugees. Especially, since the world will face a new problem in the near future: the climate refugee. According to the UN, the world will host 300 million refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the disastrous effects of climate change. This is a worrying large number. It is a number that Europe cannot deal with on its own. In comparison, at the moment there are 1,2 million refugees in Europe which seems to cause for huge social, political and cultural problems.

Climate refugees
These figures do not answer why the phenomenon of ‘climate refugees’ actually presents a problem. Why should politicians on the international level take a serious stand concerning this specific kind of refugee? Climate refugees are displaced due to climate change, which the term ‘climate refugees’ implies obviously. Climate change affects certain human rights. One of these rights forms the core of every human being: the right to life. This right includes the right to food, the right to water, and the right to shelter. In this respect, there is a link between the right to life and climate change.

This link concerns the following. At the very moment that human rights are infringed due to climate change, then it is no longer possible to define it as ‘bad luck’, since climate change is the consequence of human behaviour. Climate refugees have to flee their houses, because it is impossible to live there any longer due to the heat, the lack of water, and the infertility of water. Taking into account these factors, climate refugees should be provided a certain degree of protection in a similar way as war or political refugees.

International law problems
However, international law barely offers any protection to climate refugees. This is the consequence of the narrow definition of ‘refugees’ under the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951. It defines ‘refugees’ as: ‘any person owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

Whistle blower
The Geneva Convention definition might offer protection to climate refugees if one has a vivid imagination. It is far from realistic to capture climate refugees within the definition, which makes it hard to offer protection to climate refugees under the Geneva Convention.

In this respect, there is a need to blow the whistle in order for the United Nations, Europe and national politics to wake up. It seems that climate refugees are not on the political agenda, which seems misplaced since the current stream of refugees is peanuts in comparison to the amount of refugees that is waiting for us.

How will international politics respond when hundreds of millions of people will be displaced due to climate change? Hopefully, this number of people and the lurking human rights violations will be an incentive to change the climate change policies, the shelter taking of refugees and the limited protection under international law of climate refugees.

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