THERE WILL SOON BE FLOODS OF CLIMATE REFUGEES: WILL THEY GET ASYLUM?

“This notion of humanitarian visas, legal pathways, and temporary protection are policy options that we are encouraging states to use.” [Photo: andrej67/iStock]

 

New Zealand is considering creating a new visa for people fleeing environmental disasters brought on by climate change...

In 2012, a migrant worker from the tiny, low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati tried to become a refugee in New Zealand, arguing that he and his family were afraid to go home because of the impacts of rising sea levels. The courts didn’t accept that the dangers were imminent–or that they were due to reasons of persecution that are outlined in the international refugee convention–and rejected his claim. But people fleeing the effects of climate change on Pacific islands may soon have a new option: New Zealand’s new climate change minister hopes to create an experimental humanitarian visa for “climate refugees.”

“There’s a conversation just beginning in New Zealand, with the change of government, that makes lots of things that didn’t feel possible before now at least open for discussion,” says Vivien Maidaborn, executive director of UNICEF New Zealand, who has advocated for support for people in neighboring countries who may soon be forced to move.

“A lot of world leadership has gone on from the Pacific around climate action. [Photo: andrej67/iStock]
If implemented, the new visa category could give up to 100 people a year admission to New Zealand because of climate change. (Because the potential visa is in the early stages of planning, it’s not yet clear what the requirements will be to get one.) It’s an early attempt to begin to address migration that will soon happen on a much larger scale. In Kiribati alone, climate change is likely to cause problems not only because some villages are submerged; saltwater is already affecting drinking water supplies and the ability to grow food. As ocean water acidifies, local coral reefs could suffer, affecting the supply of fish. Diseases, like dengue fever, could become more common. Similar problems will play out across other island countries.

By 2050 hundreds of millions of people around the world–or, by some estimates, as many as 1 billion–could be displaced because of environmental problems, such as drought and flooding, that are made worse by climate change. Some people will move within countries. In the U.S., for example, an entire community living on an island in Southern Louisiana is being relocated to higher ground within the state. But many will be forced to cross borders.

It may be unlikely that people forced to move because of climate change will ever be recognized as refugees under international law, which requires someone to prove persecution based on politics, religion, or other aspects of identity (though people who are official refugees aren’t afforded particularly good treatment, either). Climate change is indiscriminate. But a growing number of countries may do something similar to New Zealand.

By 2050 hundreds of millions of people around the world–or, by some estimates, as many as 1 billion–could be displaced because of environmental problems. [Photo: andrej67/iStock]
New Zealand’s possible new visa isn’t completely unprecedented; some other countries already have “humanitarian visa” categories that have been used to respond to particular disasters. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brazil created a policy to temporarily accept Haitian immigrants. Argentina and Peru have created similar categories for people affected by disasters.

“This notion of humanitarian visas, legal pathways, and temporary protection are policy options that we are encouraging states to use,” says Atle Solberg, head of the coordination unit of the United Nations’ Platform on Disaster Displacement.

There are challenges, at least with the policies that have existed to date in places like Brazil. “These categories are not really designed for the long haul, and for durable, lasting solutions,” he says. “That is particularly relevant if you think of some of the more negative effects in developing states. Let’s say it won’t be possible to return, and people will need to permanently leave some of these areas–then these tools may come up short in terms of the need for permanent solutions.” But if multiple countries create new pathways for migration, and begin to coordinate regionally, Solberg says that he thinks “it would go a long way” to help both in short-term crises and in the longer term.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Brazil created a policy to temporarily accept Haitian immigrants. Argentina and Peru have created similar categories for people affected by disasters. [Photo: andrej67/iStock]
In New Zealand, Maidaborn argues that the country could benefit from letting more people migrate. “I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that people from Pacific nations who are really threatened by climate change are victims,” she says. “A lot of world leadership has gone on from the Pacific around climate action . . . I think there’s lot of expertise, a lot of thinking and development and action, that’s gone on in the Pacific because it’s had to have gone on, and all that learning can be very applicable here.”

She believes that more countries will follow New Zealand’s example. “I think as a world, we’re going to see in much more material terms that our earth is a closed system . . . We sort of pretended that they’re all separate systems, and we’re coming very much face-to-face with the idea that it’s all connected. The solution will resolve us to act in an interconnected way.”

By Adele Peters

11.08.17

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

source: https://www.fastcompany.com/

original story HERE

 

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