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Climate Change Migrants

Rising sea levels have been documented in various media of communication. For as long as the subject of climate change has made headlines, the effect of global warming on the world’s oceans has been proven by numerous scientific research and studies. The obvious problem with ocean levels rising is that ocean water encroaches on land inhabited by human beings as their place of permanent dwelling.

Unfortunately, migration on the basis of the effects of climate change is a rather new phenomenon. This makes it rather difficult for international governments to recognise climate change migrants as refugees in the legal sense. International law does not provide sufficient protection for climate change migrants because this class of people does not meet the international humanitarian law criteria for refugee status. Conflict and famine take precedence as phenomena that would make people abandon their place of dwelling and relocate to foreign lands. This attitude towards climate change migrants is particularly prejudicial to those “sea shore” communities that make a living from fishing. Once the benefit of cutting travelling costs is extinguished, they are forced to migrate to a place where they can earn a better living. This may well mean migrating to another country.

The problem that arises from a policy point of view is that international law may be said to be desensitised to the consequences of climate change, moreover sovereign governments that make up the international community may be said to take a denialist attitude towards climate change and its consequences on the environment. At the very least, the international community must start engaging in a process of information sharing with the intention of eventually formulating a concrete international legal and policy framework to combat the effects of global warming, and address the issue of climate change migrants.

Foreign countries must be in a position to offer legal protection and the appropriate status to persons displaced by consequences of climate change, especially if such persons are able to reasonably prove that relocating to another part of their country of origin would have had yielded undesirable economic or political consequences.


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