Each year on June 20, the world celebrates World Refugee Day. This year, the focus will be on the right to seek safety. Every person on this planet has a right to seek safety – whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee.
The United Nations estimates that roughly 20 million people have been forcibly displaced due to sea level rise, violent storms, droughts, heavy rainfalls and other climate impacts. As noted above, these people exist in a gray space, forced to leave their homes and communities, but not afforded any international legal rights or courses of action. The 2018 Global Compact on Refugees acknowledges that climate change and environmental degradation “interact with the drivers of refugee movements.” While a small step forward, this acknowledgement does not incorporate an affirmation that those fleeing climate change are in fact refugees. Instead, those in migration because of climate change are referred to as migrants, a broad term used to describe people who have left their homes—temporarily or permanently—but not because of direct violence or persecution.
In fact, a great deal more advocacy is needed to ensure that climate migrants are fully recognized in international laws and mechanisms to best provide support for these populations.