EJF brings the issue of climate refugees to the European Parliament
Mar 03, 2011

EJF brings the issue of climate refugees to the European Parliament

By EJF Staff

Climate refugees on the agenda at the European Parliament

On Wednesday 2nd March EJF’s Executive Director Steve Trent travelled to Brussels to deliver the message to the European Parliament that climate change is already forcibly displacing people from their homes and land.

Speaking at the "Climate Refugees: A New Arena for Human Rights" seminar hosted by the Socialists & Democrats Alliance, Trent outlined the very real humanitarian threats coming as a result of climate change. Already there are more people displaced by sudden onset, climate-related natural hazards than there are political refugees, with single events like Cyclone Sidr which hit Bangladesh in 2007 capable of making millions of people homeless virtually overnight.

Trent told the audience that even the most affluent countries are not insulated from the impacts of climate change: for example, Hurricane Katrina displaced 800,000 people in the US and offers of assistance included those from the most unlikely sources, such as Afghanistan and Cuba. He explained that the current refugee support system is ill-equipped to respond to environmentally-induced displacement. Climate refugees do not fall under the mandate of any agency, nor are they recognised through any legal international instrument.

The solution, he said, was most likely a new legally-binding instrument that could ensure that these vulnerable people are protected and assisted. He called for a right-based approach and for “intelligent, joined-up responses to crises as they happen”.

Following on from the debut screening of EJF’s new film on climate change and migration in Bangladesh, Trent also reiterated the increasingly accepted analysis that most displacement is internal rather than international. He warned the EU that “this is not about ‘Fortress Europe’” - that tightening border controls is not an appropriate response to this humanitarian crisis.

The seminar was held in the European Parliament by the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats. Other speakers included Ms Azeb Girmai representing ENDA, who outlined the situation in Ethiopia; the Climate Change Attache for the Hungarian Presidency; and representatives from the UNHCR, International Law and Human Rights Programme of Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), and from the Environmental Migration, Social Vulnerability and Adaption Section at the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). The panels were chaired by MEPs Vittorio Prodi, Ana Gomes and Richard Howitt.