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Samantha Dellner

Climate Migration: Migrants or Refugees

- It is common for people to leave their hometowns due to extreme weather events.

Climate Migration: Migrants or Refugees

Migration has been a constant throughout the history of humanity. However, the causes that lead humans to migrate have changed over time. Migration processes generally respond to highly varied and complex reasons. Whether for economic, social, or historical reasons, among many others, human beings have always been in constant motion. The World Organization for Migration (IOM) defines the term -migrant- as _“any person who moves outside their usual place of residence, either within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for various reasons." People who migrate either within or outside their country of origin are subject to certain legal protections due to their migrant status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines the term -refugee- as “persons who are outside their country of origin for fear of persecution, armed conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances who have seriously disturbed public order in their countries of origin” . Each country has its own legislation on migrants and refugees. However, International Law usually governs the way in which the countries of the world regulate and protect individuals with migrant or refugee status.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common for groups of people to leave their places of origin due to environmental degradation or due to the presence of extreme weather events. Since 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out in one of its reports that climate change would have major impacts on human migration. Norman Myers, a British researcher and ecologist, has pointed out that by 2050 there will be around 200 million climate migrants in the world.

It is important to note that, currently, there is no specific definition to refer to a person who leaves their place of origin for climatic reasons. International Law does not have a definition that identifies these people as climate migrants or refugees. Since International Law does not have a special recognition for people who move due to climatic reasons, these individuals are not subject to protection either. This causes these people to be practically invisible to the International System. The lack of recognition of this type of migrant makes these people more susceptible to suffering violations of their human rights.

The case of the displaced in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a country located in Southeast Asia. Its territory is almost completely surrounded by India. In 2020 Bangladesh was considered the eighth most populous country in the world. Due to its geographical location, the territory suffers a series of floods every year caused by cyclones and rains in the region. Due to its territorial constitution, this country is also vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate change. Deutsche Welle points out in one of its articles that “Bangladesh will lose between 17 and 20 percent of its land mass in the next 30 years due to rising river and sea levels. That means that between 25 and 30 million people will have to be relocated” .

Due to flooding and rising sea levels, thousands of people have had to leave their coastal homes to relocate their lives to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The people who have had to move to Dhaka live in a city that has been considered one of the worst places to live due to overcrowding, waterlogging and congestion. Most of the people who migrate to this city are low-income citizens who, upon arriving in the capital, find themselves in need of living in areas that are not very habitable. These citizens generally have to work long hours receiving salaries that do not allow them to acquire what is necessary to satisfy their basic needs.

For many years the strategy of the Bangladesh government has been to try to relocate the inhabitants of the coasts to safer areas. However, this line of action caused thousands of families to be separated in the relocation processes. The government has recently tried to implement new public policies to move towards climate resilience. Despite the above, the number of people who move for climatic reasons in the country continues to increase. Large numbers of the displaced have had to migrate to India in search of refuge and better living conditions. It should be noted that these migrants are not recognized by the Bangladeshi government as Bangladeshi citizens and are not recognized by the Indian government as refugees or climate migrants. The Indian government has cared for some of these humanitarian displaced persons. However, by not being recognized with a special migrant or refugee status for climate reasons, these people are left largely unprotected.

Climate change is today one more cause of migration. It is of the utmost importance that the International Community move towards the recognition of climate displaced persons as people in need of special protection. International Law must recognize a special protection status for people who migrate for climate reasons. Recognition of these individuals is vitally important. This will allow the countries to work together to achieve the protection of the human rights of climate displaced persons. It should be noted that with the passage of time the number of migrants for climatic reasons will increase. Countries will need to work within their borders to implement climate resilience actions and work abroad in conjunction with other countries to manage climate-related migrants. Bearing in mind that the ultimate objective must be to safeguard the lives of individuals who find themselves in need of displacement.

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Dellner, Samantha. “Migración por motivos climáticos: migrantes o refugiados.” CEMERI, 19 sept. 2022,