What does ‘Environmental Migrant’ mean?

Droughts, sea level rise, desertification and monsoons are just a few of the many reasons someone may become an environmental migrant. These factors all influence people’s way of life and can result in an area being unfit to live. Causing a necessity to migrate. Be it within the country itself to a different area or to move or flee to another country entirely. Other widely used names for these people are climate refugees, climate migrants and environmental refugees.

The environmental justice foundation states that on average, 27 million people are displaced by climate and weather-related disasters each year. This is a huge number and within the last 6 years, there have been more refugees to climate change, than refugees having to flee war or persecution. In 2012, thirty-one million people were affected by climate and weather resulting in them being displaced from their homes.

In Bangladesh, for example, millions of people have already had to move north away from the low-lying land in the Bay of Bengal’s river deltas, due to prolonged flooding. By 2050, Bangladesh could lose up to 17% of its land mass. As it is submerged by the rising sea level. Which would result in around another 20 million people being displaced.

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Many small island nations are experiencing similar outcomes as sea levelrises. Such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Which may be one of the most threatened countries by sea level rise. The Maldives at its highest point is only 2.4 meters above sea level. With sea level rise on the increase the Maldives having a more and more chance of sinking into the sea. This has a negative effect not only on the environment but the economy too. In approximately a quarter of the Maldives economy is based on tourism, as the land size decreases fewer tourist facilities can be provided. As sea level rises the salinity decreases due to the mass amount of fresh water caused by the melting of ice from the poles and glaciers. This can have huge negative effects on the coral reef ecosystem surrounding the island. In turn, this may reduce the fisheries and that leads to even lower levels of income. Forcing many individuals to leave Maldives in look for work elsewhere. The total population of 380,000 residents may all become climate refugees if sea level continues to rise. The government is aware of this and are already starting to make plans with leaders in countries such as Australia and India.

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Environmental migrants face much larger risks than that of political and conflict refugees. They can be forced back to their homeland or sent to refugee camps which can be overflowing. Climate change is also starting to pose other threats as it has the potential to generate armed conflicts, especially in areas where there are existing tensions. A good example of this is the crisis in Syria Where an overly long period of drought has destroyed crops, killed livestock and displaced as many as 1.5 million Syrian farmers. Environmental migrants then moved to urban areas looking for work that was not available, contributing to the circumstance’s that led to the uprise and start of a civil war.

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Currently Environmental migrants are not actually protected by any international laws as these laws don’t really exist. As for climate change and environmental reasons was not part of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951. This is now starting to cause serious problems as climate change continues to happen, and more and more people are uprooted worldwide. However what can be done as if a law is put in place it will be filled with problems such as what classifies as an environmental migrant. Some ideas are to maybe start migrating communities to safer locations maintaining a social structure and reducing the amount of people flooding into cities looking for work and creating another situation similar to Syria.

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