World, Life, Environment

Climate refugees: Forgotten migrants in environment (3)

Pressuring states could be one key way to tackle climate migration problem, says refugee advocate

Burak Bir   | 26.10.2019
Climate refugees: Forgotten migrants in environment (3)

ISTANBUL

Climate-related environmental disasters disrupt the right to life just as they hurt human health, according to the head of a refugee rights group.

"Desperation describes their [climate refugees'] situation. No matter if they are internal or international migrants, in any case they face problems adapting," said Ugur Yildirim, head of the Istanbul-based International Refugees Rights Association.

Those who lose their jobs due to climate-related problems are called economic migrants, and no country wants them, he said, speaking to Anadolu Agency, as part of its "Climate Refugees: Forgotten migrants of environment" feature series.

"While environmental factors affect human life and health, they [also] violate the right to life, and those who migrate to survive lack the status to fully express their situation and fully protect their rights," he said.

Citing his interviews with refugees, he said they do not migrate for a better life, but rather move from an all-but-certain death to a probable one, as they are forced to leave their land due to famine.

"If you ask child refugees, 'What will you do when you grow up?' they ask you, 'Can I grow up?' as they’re not sure about it," he said

Living in despair leads to burnout for them, he added, calling it their "biggest problem."

Apart from the social and psychological effects of climate change and environmental disasters, these problems also trigger many socioeconomic problems such as civil war, teetering social balances, and societal security problems.

'Ignoring refugees means leaving them to die'

Criticizing European countries’ attitudes towards refugees, Yildirim said that out of 65 million refugees worldwide, there are only about a million in Europe, but European leaders still try to avoid recognizing the refugee crisis.

"Rather than working to tackle the causes of the refugee problem, the EU made a decision to prevent refugees from entering European countries, which have been stopping migrant boats, and stepping up fines for human trafficking," he said.

They refer to refugees only as numbers or bundles, because one refugee's death means nothing to them, he said, adding: "Ignoring climate refugees means leaving them to death.”

"In a world where people who fled the Syrian war are criticized for not returning to their homeland, people who flee the famine in Somalia also do not receive any empathy," he added.

Africa is the region with the highest migration rate due to environmental factors, and geographical disadvantages also cause international migration, he said.

On the differences between societies, he stated that people forced to leave their homes by water scarcity have a hard time being understood by people who buy bottled water based on its optimum pH level.

"Developed countries tend to have a 'hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' policy toward the refugee issue until they face problems," he added.

The threat from environmental disasters which trigger waves of climate refugees worldwide grows larger each day, he said.

"Global warming actually means disappearing land, as rising sea levels may lead to, for example, the disappearance of the Maldives [Islands].

"Today, fire-related environmental disasters in the Amazon not only affect the people of the region, but the whole world," Yildirim added.

He also suggested that pressuring states could be one of the key ways to solve the climate migration problem.

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