Climate debt news
Climate forced migration - a high profile panel and me
Kate Blagojevic, used to be press officer
I was invited to speak on a panel organised by our allies Equity and Justice Working Group in Bangladesh looking at the issue of forced migration as a result of climate change. I agreed, but hastened to add that I am not an expert in migration, but my knowledge comes from my spare time activity with asylum seekers in the UK rather than detailed knowledge of climate forced migration. Reza who was organising the panel promised it was no big deal. Imagine then, my alarm when Kumi Naidoo, the Chief Exec of Greenpeace International and the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh joined me on the panel.
As ever WDM had done some number crunching, which I could rely on! We estimated that the UK could be responsible for creating 10 million migrants over the next 40 years because of inaction on the climate change that the UK is causing and has caused historically. That is 250, 000 people each year, in the vast majority, these will be people from developing countries who will be forced from their homes through no fault of their own.
Paying our climate debt doesn’t just mean slashing emissions and compensating developing countries with climate finance, it also means that we have a responsibility to welcome people who want to come to Britain who have been forced from their homes because of climate change.
Despite what we read in our right wing press, we know that out of the people who are forced to migrate due to war, or human rights violations, the greater number move internally or to neighbouring countries. The same is true for people who are forced to migrate because of climate change.
In all communities affected by climate change, it is always the poorest and most marginalised people who tend to live in areas most susceptible to extreme flooding, or drought. But to migrate requires resources. Therefore poor communities often resort to migration as an option of last resort in response to ever worsening conditions.
But what awaits people who do choose to come to the UK? The situation currently for migrants is dire. The current government is introducing legislation to tighten border controls, working with European governments to militarise Fortress Europe, the number of student and work visas available has been limited. This is all making it harder and harder to get into the UK and people who help individuals across borders can be fined or even imprisoned.
When men, women and children arrive in the UK, they are often immediately imprisoned in high security immigration detention centres; deprived of their liberty for months, and sometimes years, for a ‘crime’ of seeking sanctuary in the UK. They are refused that sanctuary and then deported to countries like Iraq, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Iran. And it should be noted that the UK is one of the few countries in the world that forcibly deports people to Iraq, despite pleas from the UN not to do so. People are deported with great and increasing violence which just two months ago resulted in the death of a refugee who was being forcibly returned to Angola.
Although, the political status, international recognition and legal response by the international community to migrants forced to flee due to climate change and to those forced to flee in fear of persecution must be separate and targeted, the common bond that ties them, is that they must be treated with dignity and respect.
But dignity and respect is in short supply in the treatment of migrants to the UK currently, and with the responsibility that the UK must take towards climate forced migrants, it is clear that there needs, urgently, to be a sea-change in attitude, and legislation to make the UK a haven rather than hell for migrants of all backgrounds.