Helping environmental migrants is the least we can do

By Mauragh Scott.

For as long as humans have lived on the Earth, migration has been an essential part of life. It is believed that the earliest form of human migration begun around two million years ago. However, in recent years migration has become an extremely controversial issue, which is set to get even worse – environmental migration will become more prominent, due to countries increasingly losing habitable land due to climate change. Ironically, most of the people being affected by climate change are not the ones causing it, and so solutions can only come from countries in charge of the international political arena.

With the increase in anti-migrant jargon used throughout many western countries in recent years, it is important to shed light on the fact that most migration is not as often from south to north as news sources seem to portray. In fact, in 2015 migration between southern countries was 90.2 million people, which is 4.9 million more than those travelling from south to north, proving that poorer countries have more migrants than richer ones, despite having lesser resources to help them cope.1 This clearly shows how the global issue of migration is one that benefits the rich the most.

It is also clear that the countries and communities affected most by climate change are poorer, and are often not the ones who are causing the problem . Moreover, despite the global movement to become greener, the issues regarding global poor and indigenous communities are often overlooked, due to their not having access to mainstream media discourse. Thus, while forest fires in California and Australia receive blanket coverage, issues relating to indigenous people and people of colour – for example the increasing frequency of drought in Honduras – are largely ignored. Western media persistently focuses on the amount of immigrants coming from South America, at the expense of explaining the reasons for their migration in the first place. As we can see, this is a racial issue as well as a climate issue.

Photo source.

The increase in migration due to climate change will only continue to escalate. For instance, it has been reported that by 2050, 1.5 billion people will become migrants due to global warming. 3 This increase highlights that the challenges will only increase, and will continue to affect the global south more than its richer, better off neighbours in the north. Moreover, the international community is simply not prepared for the rise of climate change-based migration. For example, there is still confusion over what to call people who need to migrate due to global warming, as previous definitions of refugees and migrates do not fit this form of migration.4 Moreover, there is a lack of clarity as to how countries will come together to provide international help to these new form of migrants. Given that neoliberalism in effect promotes international competition, as opposed to cooperation, it is hard to see how common ground to address climate change can be found.”

Overall, it is clear that significant changes are needed to address these issues. At the very least, this must begin with richer countries taking responsibility for the part they play in this issue, and help the real victims – the global poor – instead of forcing them to stay in their own countries that are now only wastelands. This would be a very small beginning, but it is the very least we can do.

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