With Trump’s Human-Rights Policies, Religious ‘Values’ Take Priority

Cubans waiting to be served food during the country's annual celebration of its revolution.

For almost three centuries, through street protests, court battles and a civil war, the United States has sporadically but steadily advanced and expanded human-rights protections and commitments in domestic and foreign policies. Now Donald Trump and the most conservative, ideologically driven officials on his team want to turn back this record in fundamental ways, as … Read more

WORLDVIEWS

Brazil Can Lead the Way on Managing the World’s Refugee Crisis

RIO DE JANEIRO — Only weeks from the start of the 2018 World Cup, soccer teams of refugees from Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Angola, Burkina Faso and Gambia who had migrated to Brazil became the protagonists in a recent soccer competition: the Multicultural Cup, organized by Instituto Adus, a nongovernmental organization, … Read more

TAKE A LOOK

Refugee Health: A Defining Issue of the Century

In mid-2016, the United Nations refugee agency and Ugandan officials made a horrific discovery. Cholera was being introduced in a migrant settlement by refugees from South Sudan who were fleeing the extreme violence in their imploding country. In barely six weeks, beginning last July, 80,000 South Sudanese had arrived in Uganda when the outbreak of … Read more

WORLDVIEWS

The UN Should Just Say No to Returning Refugees to Danger

Pressure is building on Afghan and Somali refugees to go home, even if they no longer have homes to return to. It is not surprising that this pressure is coming from governments that have been hosting huge numbers of refugees and want to end what seems to them like a never-ending burden. What is surprising … Read more

Fleeing Violence, Syrian Women Try to Cope in Turkey and Lebanon

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Amima and Fatima Jebari are Syrian sisters who fled last year to the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, after the Free Syrian Army entered their village in the north, they said, and violence ensued between the rebel group and the government forces of Bashar al-Assad in the continuing … Read more

In UN Refugee Camps, Sports Soothe Trauma for Children

Somali Refugees in Kenya

“Sport is the only area of human existence that has achieved universal law,” said Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee when he announced that elite athletes who were refugees could compete in the 2016 Olympics under that flag. “Regardless of where in the world we practice sport, the rules are the same … Read more

GOINGS-ON

Filippo Grandi of Italy to Lead the UN Refugee Agency Amid Continued Crisis

Filippo Grandi of Italy has been selected by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, to become the 11th UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a post based in Geneva. Grandi will be officially voted into office by the UN General Assembly next week. Grandi replaces António Guterres of Portugal, 66, who has been high commissioner of … Read more

In New York State, a City Willing to Settle Refugees the Right Way

BUFFALO — Inside this city’s West Side Bazaar, a business development incubator set up to assist refugees and immigrants here, colors dazzle and appetizing aromas waft around every corner. The bazaar is a packed mashup of a Middle Eastern souk with an outdoor market of Southern Asia. Vendors and aspiring restaurateurs from some of the … Read more

In Italy, a Patchwork of Services for Migrants Arriving at Its Shores [Video]

ROME — Italy is a slender peninsula ringed by 4,722 miles of coastline, a blessing that brings thousands of Italians to the sea each August for Ferragosto, the country’s summer vacation period. The coastline — one of the longest in the world — has also been attracting boats full of refugees and migrants, in numbers … Read more

Women Refugees in Germany Demand Better Conditions, and the Government Responds

BERLIN, Germany — António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, recently praised Germany’s asylum policy, calling it a “positive example for other European states to follow.” In the streets of Berlin, however, the situation appears to be far from positive. In the last few months, the German capital has experienced several high-profile demonstrations — … Read more

A Tenuous Life for Malian Refugees in the Desert

UN refugee camp Mauritania

MBERA REFUGEE CAMP, Mauritania — One major fallout from the eruptions that began between Tuareg rebels in northern Mali and government troops last winter— spurred by NATO’s war in Libya, which sent thousands of Tuaregs back home to Mali with Libyan military weapons — was not only a coup d’état but also an influx of … Read more

Refugees Settling in the US Reaches 3 Million Mark

afghan refugees

Since 1975, three million refugees have settled in the United States, the world’s largest recipient of distressed or endangered people seeking permanent new homes. The US is also the largest financial contributor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, say new figures from the State Department and the UN refugee agency. Canada and the US … Read more

More Refugees Flee the Horn of Africa for Yemen

In the Horn of Africa, where drought and political violence have already cost thousands of lives this year, desperate people are turning to the sea to escape intolerable conditions all around them. They are landing by the thousands in the dangerous chaos of Yemen. In October alone, more than 12,000 people, mostly from Somalia and … Read more

Climate Change, Migrations and Few Welcome Mats

Climate change is being linked to such far-flung situations as rising seas that threaten to sink small island nations and drying up vast regions in Africa, which has spurred large upheavals of people, most recently in Somalia.

This week, the complicated topic of environmental shifts and their effect on migration was tackled at a lunchtime panel sponsored by the International Peace Institute with the Portuguese and German governments. This summer, the subject was debated for the first time at the United Nations Security Council when Germany assumed the presidency in July.

Human migration is an ancient adaptation strategy rooted in the desire to find a better life, and today the phenomenon still reflects that urge. But climate change and related food scarcity problems have created new pressures that few countries can handle or understand. Take Somalia again, where the drought in the Horn of Africa has led to hundreds of thousands of people displaced, straining relations with Kenya while heightening warfare within its own borders.

The Peace Institute discussion focused on how multilateral institutions are being forced to address climate change and migration, despite relative inexperience in the matter. The speakers were Udo Janz, the director of the New York office of the UN high commissioner for refugees; Susan Martin, the executive director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Michele Klein Solomon, the permanent observer to the UN for the International Organization for Migration. Warren Hoge, senior adviser for external relations at the Peace Institute, moderated (http://www.ipacademy.org/news/general-announcement/276-environmental-migrants-climate-change-and-human-migration.html).

Dialogue on climate shifts and human movement remain contentious. As Professor Martin pointed out in her scholarly talk, projections of numbers have not been borne out. Experts in the environment and in migration have not been conversing with each other, though that is improving, she said.

The problem is that “there has been a great deal of disagreement about what the actual causal or determinative linkages are between environmental change on one hand and human migration on the other,” she said.

Moving away from projections, migration experts are now focusing on the ground, Professor Martin said. Migration is pushed by various factors that include economics, social relationships, politics and national and human security. The environment is an important factor, but seldom is it the only reason that people move.

Climate change affects mobility gradually from, say, rising sea levels, making life uninhabitable; increasing droughts and desertification, especially disrupting agricultural livelihoods; severe hazards like cyclones, causing sudden displacement; and intense competition for scarce resources, sowing conflicts and tension.

In addition, migration patterns vary widely and can change overnight, as in the Somalia crisis. The movements can be temporary (a few days or months) or permanent; internal (most within borders); and international – most people head to neighboring countries, where problems are slightly less extreme. For example, desperate Somalis who made the boat journey to Yemen had no idea the country was battling a civil war, so some returned home.

Migration is expected to continue mainly in developing countries, given the costs of going long distances, notably from poor to wealthier nations. One big concern, Professor Martin said, are those who can’t leave, “the most vulnerable amongst us.”

As for policies to help fix the problems, Professor Martin recommended that “pre-migration” phases focus on mitigation and adaptation – like developing coping skills to contend with unfolding dramas and finding strategies for reducing disaster risks.

Somalian refugees at an internal camp in Mogadishu. Nearly four million Somalians, half the country, have had their lives severely disrupted by the recent drought, leading to forced migration and deadly conflicts.
STUART PRICE/UN PHOTO

Yet some migration, she acknowledged, is inevitable, through either a spontaneous departure to a new location or a planned relocation, as with small island countries. Both paths involve challenges of integration or reintegration. More important, Professor Martin said, migration doesn’t end with the arrival of people in a new place but “with how they are received.”

Laws and policy programs addressing all forms of movements and phases are weak except for emergencies, particularly related to conflict, which fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Policies are almost nonexistent for slow-forming situations, especially for ones across borders. Some treaties are evolving for internal displacement, but most are not binding. The African Union has adopted a convention of rights of internally displaced people, though it is not in force yet. Meanwhile, African populations are the fastest-growing in the world, the UN says, increasing the number of people at risk in many places and putting greater pressures on natural resources.

Klein Solomon of the International Organization for Migration, which consists of 132 member countries that is independent of the UN, reiterated much of Professor Martin’s remarks but summarized her group’s function in migration policy discussions.

For example, IOM, as it is known, is researching situations and trends and bringing people together to talk at national and international levels, like climate change scientists with migration experts and political groups with development communities.

Janz of the UN refugee office repeatedly linked increased displacement of people to environmental factors such as natural disasters, which he said are growing in number and intensity. But he mainly concentrated his talk on drought and desertification in Africa and the plight of low-lying island countries in the Pacific, all problems stemming from climate change, he said.

“Drought and desertification are at the core of serious challenges and threats facing sustainable development,” Janz said, adding that land degradation is a major cause of forced migration and incites violent conflicts over dwindling natural resources, food insecurity and starvation, loss of biological diversity and homes, poor health and rising poverty.

Two-thirds of Africa is classified as desert or dry land, primarily in the Horn of Africa and the Kalahari Desert, farther south. More droughts are predicted, Janz said, while arid conditions are pushing more people out of their homes internally. The greatest people affected are at the lowest end, settling in the outskirts of urban areas or suboptimal coastal lands.

The effects of the drought in Somalia are threatening up to 750,000 more lives, the UN says. Unusually, some herders and their livestock have even gone to live in Mogadishu, the capital, hardly a city with a welcome mat. Women and children bear the heaviest burden, making weeks-long treks to presumed safety while risking sexual assault as their men stay behind to tend whatever livestock remains.

Sea-level rises in the Pacific are not just about islands disappearing but entire populations having to vacate long before then, Janz said, because of salinization in otherwise arable land. Twenty-two countries with up to 9.2 million people could be without homes and livelihoods.

“What can we do?” he asked. UN and other international organizations must develop efficient adaptive mechanisms, he suggested, among other actions, while countries should be more responsible for developing responses for areas prone to disasters, like Bangladesh. There, Janz said, the region is constantly vulnerable to cyclones, but a flexible shelter program has helped people manage.

 

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