Galling is an understatement to describe someone’s feelings every time they find themselves hopping from one place to another. Hence, the only hopping most of us would tolerate and enjoy is when we are island hopping because there is something positive to look forward to at the end of our destination.
But hopping from one place to another in hopes of refuge and comforts could sometimes take a toll. We can never be sure what awaits us at the end of our destination. Thus, all we could do is pray for some divine intervention to exempt us from the cruel reality that lies on every corner of this planet.
What are refugees?
Now and then, there are people all over the world who seek refuge in other countries. Hence, we refer to them as refugees – people who are running from something, often oppression.
There could be many reasons why people would choose to run away from their country instead of simply migrating. The difference here is that when people decide to migrate, they could be well off enough to sustain themselves in other countries. It could be that they have several acquaintances or family members, which would help them survive.
However, for refugees, that is not the case. They seek refuge because they could be experiencing oppression in their own country or the place itself is no longer safe to inhabit. Take, for example, refugees from countries wherein war is rampant. Approximately 5 million or more Syrian refugees are coming from Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. These people did not automatically decide to leave their hometown if their situation is still manageable.
But with the constant threats they are receiving and more children receiving the damage it costs, they had to leave in hopes of starting anew in a foreign country. Consequently, it is no longer solely about the safety that they mean to achieve, but also it is about the future that their children will grow up in.
The good thing about this refugee movement is that countries already established programs that would help the refugees. Host countries are entitled to additional support, thanks to the UN’s responsibility-sharing principle – and humanitarian responses remain perennially underfunded. In 2020, UNHCR required US$47.4million for their ongoing programs and coronavirus response in the Central African Republic. But as of July 2020, just 25% of those funds had been received.
In any case, people seeking help are given the humanitarian attention they need to survive the trying times in their lives until they are capable enough to stand on their feet and sustain themselves what they used to have in their previous hometown.
What are climate change refugees?
Contrary to the case of war refugees that we get to witness both on online platforms and new reports on televisions worldwide, it is not every day that we get to see headlines on news reports and news tabloids about climate refugees. For some reason, hearing it for the first time is quite odd, as if it is information that is ambiguous or indefinite per se.
Nevertheless, let us first try to define climate refugees. Who are considered climate refugees?
To simply put, based on its root words, the people who are included are those who experience climate stressors and moves out from their place and seeks comfort in other places. However, according to Climate and Migration Coalition, the term ‘climate refugee’ has become a general term for any climate migration situation.
However, it has a pinch of vagueness because even United Nations simply accepts any definition about it as long as it ticks the box of its meaning. With that, it was noted that we have to take notes on who is included and considered as climate refugees to clearly define it.
Like a principle in Linguistics about structuralism, it is essential to recognize the different concepts and relationships on a particular subject to define it the right way. This is essential because, for other people, climate refugees could be different from how the other party defines them.
All things considered, refugees only move from one place to another if, again, the state of their economy or surroundings is no longer safe or can no longer accommodate their needs. For example, the illustration that the Climate Migration Coalition provided; farmers, who no longer gain much than before, given the effect of climate change, which is drought. Hence, they decide to move out and look for another land where they could work again as farmers. Are they considered climate refugees?
Naturally, the action that they took (moving out) was caused by climate change. But the question is, are they really refugees? Take note that climate refugees might take pleasure in the benefits of other regular refugees or not? Instances such as, they might enter other countries, if only allowed by the government, without going through intense investigations that is often arduous to get by.
However, we could not be that certain given that climate refugees are not much recognized. Hence, we have to narrow down the different considerations to climate refugees, to which the world pays less attention.
Climate Change Refugees
Struggles of climate refugees
Climate refugees are less recognized than other refugees and also lack protection under international law. We understand this due to its lack of formal definition.
Since the year 2008, an approximate number of 24 million are displaced from their homes onto other places due to weather impacts. And it will continuously rise due to climate change.
Losing their Homes and Livelihood
Numerous thousands of people suffer due to many climate crises: a) the rise of sea levels which sinks their islands; or b) worse drought, wherein water will grow so scarce that it could doom a community to oblivion. These crises cause people to suffer from losing their homes and livelihood.
Now, this is a serious issue that must be addressed and dealt with, because people are dying not only because of the phenomena itself but its aftermath, which leaves people vying for an inn to spend the night with, for the reason that they can no longer dwell in their old town because it is either gone or there are no longer resources that would sustain their livelihood.
Not legally recognized as refugees
On the other hand, as much as we understand the gravity of recognizing climate refugees internationally, according to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Society, “Climate migrants* are not legally considered refugees according to international refugees law.” For the reason that the term ‘refugee’ is a legal term acknowledging people moving out of their country due to the grounds of being persecuted and oppressed in the aspects of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political group. Climate change is the cause of emigration cannot be considered as ‘refugees’ because it does not persecute the people.
Consequently, to consider someone as a refugee, they must move out of their country and travel international borders. People who are forced to move within their country are Internally Displaced Persons. Given the climate stressors as an internal movement, the term ’climate refugee’ can confuse, given the precise definition of what and who is considered a ‘refugee.’
Not protected by international law
Lastly, to enlighten this confusion more, the so-called ‘climate refugees are not in the legal position of other refugees. Therefore, whatever legal actions are taken towards other regular refugees, such as being protected by certain agencies, these climate refugees are not recognized.
Albeit the lack of recognition by international laws, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, is providing both help and support towards refugees and other displaced people affected by Climate Change, as well as encouraging them to boost their resiliency towards the coming disasters the future had in store. A good move, for the reason that the issue about people moving out of their town due to natural disasters is heart-wrenching.
This means that these people have to begin again, especially those who could not save anything but themselves after the surge of disaster. When someone’s home was destroyed due to natural calamity, it would difficult to build another concrete or a wooden house. First, money is one of the essential things these people should have to begin again.
Solutions to the Climate Refugee Crisis
The predicament between recognizing climate refugees should be more than just people being displaced. As much as there is no persecution and oppression behind their displacement, what these people went through should be acknowledged and recognized, especially the marginalized.
The focus should be on who is considered and who is not because even without it, humanitarian attention should happen, regardless of whether it is big or not. The only bad thing that is taking place is if we send them away just because they do not pass the refugees’ standards. Sure, there are quite qualifications to look into, but it is highly recommended to provide sufficient attention to these climate refugees as much as possible. Because like any other individual, the idea of wanting to survive is innate.
Hence, when we feel that we are no longer safe and can no longer accommodate us with the essential resources we need, whether it is primary or not, it can dismay the people. Thus, they seek ways and help to survive and procure these essential needs.
The act of traveling to international borders is already exhausting. It is not as if these people are free to go onboard and smoothly sail away. In the current situation of our world right now, several people have a hard time commuting or traveling.
Money is a significant factor that obstructs these people from seeking comfort on other lands. Hence, once this predicament is recognized, there is a high chance that these people, albeit do not experience the convenience of other regular refugees, a small amount of help can already contribute.
Regardless if the term ‘climate refugee’ is not regarded by other international agencies, and the more accurate term to use is ‘Internally Displaced Persons’, in the context of disasters and climate change, we must exert our help as much as we can.
We should not only aim at decreasing the temperature. The decrease in temperature would not ensure good welfare towards other people.
Most importantly, we do not need to have labels or terms to consider before helping. Naturally, we have to see if what they are going through is legit, but let us also remember that we should always help, regardless of race, gender, religion, or even issues and predicaments that these people went through.