UN calls for recognition of environmental refugees

The United Nations University (UNU) has called on the international community to recognise the plight of people displaced by negative changes in the environment.

Unlike victims of political upheavals or violence who have access, through governments and international organisations, to such assistance as funding, food and shelter, “environmental refugees” are not yet recognised in world conventions.

“This is a highly complex issue, with global organisations already overwhelmed by the demands of conventionally recognised refugees,” said UNU Rector Hans van Ginkel. “We should prepare now, to define, accept and accommodate this new breed of ‘refugee’ within international frameworks.”

Janos Bogardi, Director of the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security said: “There are well founded fears that the number of people fleeing untenable environmental conditions may grow exponentially as the world experiences the effects of climate change and other phenomena.”

He noted that the term “environmental refugee” rankled many experts for masking what were often complex motives behind migration and implicitly laying the blame on nature when often the policies and practices of people were the real cause of displacement.

“This new category of ‘refugee’ needs to find a place in international agreements,” he said. “We need to better anticipate support requirements, similar to those of people fleeing other unviable situations.”

The Institute has been working to establish an internationally agreed glossary of terms to promote cooperation in the broad area of environment and human security.

David Hopkins

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