UC Berkeley institute releases report on climate refugees

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UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, which focuses on research, policy and work related to marginalized communities, released a report Tuesday calling for a legal mechanism to protect refugees forced to cross borders by climate issues.

The report, titled “Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied” found that climate change will seriously impact vulnerable communities. The report was authored by director Elsadig Elsheikh and project policy analyst Hossein Ayazi of the Global Justice Program at the Othering & Belonging Institute

The report was composed over the last few years and used sources including reports and analyses from the United Nations, as well as firsthand accounts of climate-induced displacement, according to Ayazi.

Long-term disasters, including sea level rise and desertification, and short-term disasters, such as storms and fires, are especially threatening to people living in the Global South which contains Africa, Asia, South America and Central America, as well as island nations across the Indian and Pacific oceans according to the report.

“The world today has been developed unevenly,” Ayazi said. He added that many nations in the Global South “don’t have the resources to mitigate these natural disasters,” and generally experience the worst end of the climate crisis “in terms of human mobility.”

Among the most vulnerable countries is Bangladesh, which is projected to lose 17% of its total land to sea level rise by 2050, displacing more than 20 million people, according to the report.

Ayazi added that these nations are at a structural disadvantage because of centuries of colonial policies and practices.

Migrants who flee their countries because of natural disasters are not always legally protected, according to the report. The report also stated that those who flee their countries because of short-term natural disasters only occasionally qualify for country-specific policies and humanitarian visas, but these provisions are not legally binding.

In addition, migration following long-term natural disasters is not covered under international law except in cases in which the host country denies protection based on race, religion or other social identity-based reasons.

“The report identified a major oversight in international refugees,” Ayazi said. Presently, a necessary condition for obtaining the (refugee) status is the experience of persecution, but that’s not how forced migration under climate migration works.”

Today, the forms of persecution that cause people to flee their countries are typically considered to be derived from an authoritarian government or a local conflict disrupting the stability of the country, according to the report.

The report advances the notion of “petro-persecution,” as climate change cannot be pinned on a single, local actor and is instead driven by the global dependence on fossil fuels.

“(The report) argues that the normative framing must account for global persecution of climate refugees,” Ayazi said. “We hope it will encourage people to think about how persecution is built into a global dependence on fossil fuels.”

Contact Nina Narahari at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ninanarahari_dc.