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Climate Change and Migration: Key Issues for Legal Protection of Migrants and Displaced Persons

Climate Change and Migration: Key Issues for Legal Protection of Migrants and Displaced Persons

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Published by Kayly
Background paper released by the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Study Team on Climate-induced Migration.

Summary: There are a number of scenarios in which people could be displaced or forced to migrate due to climate change and extreme weather events. The movement of people in response to these climate-induced events implicates human rights and humanitarian law. Moreover, the potential indirect impacts from the implementation of disaster response strategies or climate adaptation programs can also raise human rights concerns, particularly if the government undertakes to resettle large numbers of people. Of growing concern are serious gaps in the protection schemes provided by existing law, including the extent to which persons adversely affected by climate change can cross international borders in search of jobs or otherwise engage in labor migration as a means of survival.
This paper discusses various ambiguities and gaps in human rights and humanitarian law which leave many climate change victims who are forced to migrate unprotected and vulnerable to abuse. It presents several policy approaches suggested by humanitarian experts to ensure the adequate protection of climate change migrants. The paper concludes that these gaps will need to be addressed either through the further clarification of humanitarian and human rights principles, or through new international standards related to host countries and countries of origin.
Background paper released by the German Marshall Fund's Transatlantic Study Team on Climate-induced Migration.

Summary: There are a number of scenarios in which people could be displaced or forced to migrate due to climate change and extreme weather events. The movement of people in response to these climate-induced events implicates human rights and humanitarian law. Moreover, the potential indirect impacts from the implementation of disaster response strategies or climate adaptation programs can also raise human rights concerns, particularly if the government undertakes to resettle large numbers of people. Of growing concern are serious gaps in the protection schemes provided by existing law, including the extent to which persons adversely affected by climate change can cross international borders in search of jobs or otherwise engage in labor migration as a means of survival.
This paper discusses various ambiguities and gaps in human rights and humanitarian law which leave many climate change victims who are forced to migrate unprotected and vulnerable to abuse. It presents several policy approaches suggested by humanitarian experts to ensure the adequate protection of climate change migrants. The paper concludes that these gaps will need to be addressed either through the further clarification of humanitarian and human rights principles, or through new international standards related to host countries and countries of origin.

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Published by: Kayly on Jul 04, 2010
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Summary: There are a number ofscenarios in which people could bedisplaced or forced to migrate due toclimate change and extreme weatherevents. The movement of people inresponse to these climate-inducedevents implicates human rights andhumanitarian law. Moreover, thepotential indirect impacts from theimplementation of disaster responsestrategies or climate adaptationprograms can also raise humanrights concerns, particularly if thegovernment undertakes to resettlelarge numbers of people. Of grow-ing concern are serious gaps in theprotection schemes provided byexisting law, including the extent towhich persons adversely affectedby climate change can cross inter-national borders in search of jobs orotherwise engage in labor migrationas a means of survival.This paper discusses various am-biguities and gaps in human rightsand humanitarian law which leavemany climate change victims whoare forced to migrate unprotectedand vulnerable to abuse. It presentsseveral policy approaches suggestedby humanitarian experts to ensurethe adequate protection of climatechange migrants. The paper con-cludes that these gaps will need tobe addressed either through the fur-
ther clarication of humanitarian and
human rights principles, or throughnew international standards relatedto host countries and countries oforigin.
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 200091 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
Study Team on Climate-Induced Migration
Tere are a number o scenarios inwhich people could be displacedor orced to migrate due to climatechange and extreme weather events.Hurricanes and oods, generally rap-id-onset events, may lead to temporary human displacement. Drought anddesertication, slower-onset events,may not immediately threaten humanlie but can become serious environ-mental and human disasters over lon-ger periods o time. Droughts already aect millions o people worldwide,threatening ood security, sustainabledevelopment and human livelihoods.Te competition over scarce watersupplies, land and jobs that can resultrom prolonged drought could lead tosocial upheaval and an increased inci-dence o violence and ethnic tension, asituation that is already contributing toconict in East Arica.Te movement o people in responseto these climate-induced eventsimplicates human rights and humani-tarian law. Moreover, the potentialimpact rom the implementation o disaster response strategies or climateadaptation programs may also raisehuman rights concerns, particularly i governments resettle large numberso people. Notwithstanding that somestandards exist or internally displacedpersons, there are uncertainties inthe law and gaps in the legal protec-tion o climate-aected populations,including the extent to which personsmigrating away rom ood or droughtdisaster areas can legally cross inter-national borders in search o jobs orto otherwise engage in labor migra-tion as a means o survival. Te lack o clear standards in this area leavesmany climate victims unprotected and vulnerable to abuse. As uture climatedisasters multiply, so too will the num-ber o migrants or displaced who areunprotected.Tis paper provides a brie overviewo the human rights and humanitariannorms related to migrant protection,recognizing that a much more com-prehensive, in-depth analysis may bewarranted as policymakers engage inurther dialogue. Te paper begins by providing a brie analysis o the gen-eral human rights principles relevantto people displaced or who migrate in-ternally and across borders in responseto disaster, and the relevant govern-ment obligations o assistance. It thenhighlights the areas in which the law
Climate Change and Migration:Key Issues for Legal Protection of Migrantsand Displaced Persons
by Michelle Leighton
1
June 2010
1
The author thanks Katherine Regan, Columbia University Law School, for her research assistance.
 
is less clear in its application to climate change migrantsor where standards are absent in existing law. Te paperidenties the groups that are consequently unprotected and,in the nal part, discusses the policy considerations beingadvanced by humanitarian agencies and others to providegreater protection or displacees and migrants.
International legal standards relevant to victims ofclimate disasters
Climate-induced displacement and migration implicate anumber o human rights and humanitarian standards. Teextent o the rights o victims and the corresponding obliga-tions o states is dynamic and evolves as the internationalcommunity gains more understanding and experience inaddressing the needs o disaster victims. At present, theextent o government obligation and level o protectionaorded victims depends on the context o the disaster andon whether victims are displaced temporarily, orced tomigrate, or voluntarily move away rom the disaster zone.It should be noted at the outset that widespread under-standing o the impact o climate change is relatively recentand legal standards have not yet caught up with scienticpredictions, leaving conclusions regarding the application o human rights law somewhat speculative.In general, human rights norms are more protective o those who are displaced or who migrate within their coun-try o origin than or those who migrate internationally.Tis is because governments have adopted certain baselinestandards to protect the internally displaced, which governthe state’s treatment o such persons in the course o naturaldisasters or armed conict. However, governments have notadopted a similar set o standards or persons who migrateinternationally in response to climate disasters, such as se- vere droughts. Te rights o these persons and governmentobligations in this area have yet to be claried.Tis section rst identies the general government obliga-tions with respect to disaster relie and cooperation. It thenconsiders the situations o victims orced to migrate inter-nationally and who are less protected, ollowed by a discus-sion o those displaced internally by disaster who wouldbe entitled to greater protection by their country o origin.Both rapid-onset and slow-onset disasters are discussedwithin the context o international migration and internaldisplacement.
General obligations of states
International law is undamentally concerned with the ob-ligations that states owe to each other. Te subset o humanrights doctrine, however, comprises additional duties owedby states to individuals and groups. It also prescribes specialresponsibility or the protection o vulnerable populationsand minorities, including women, children and indigenousgroups.Human rights law, as a general matter, obligates states tosaeguard the lie and property o those within a state’s ter-ritory against threats o disaster and oreseeable harm. Itrequires states to mitigate the negative impacts o disasterwhen these occur, including through legal and administra-tive mechanisms, evacuation and possible temporary orpermanent relocation o aected persons consonant withthe right o reedom o movement.
2
It urther obligatesgovernments to be particularly sensitive to the needs o  vulnerable groups, such as women, children, minorities andindigenous peoples. Tese groups may be especially vul-nerable to climate shocks i they are already suering rompoverty, discrimination or other adverse socio-economicand political impacts.Te legal ramework governing international aid and as-sistance in times o disaster victims has emerged rom amyriad set o multilateral instruments and has been dis-tilled, in part, within the 2005 Hyogo Framework or Ac-tion.
3
Under this Framework, governments recognize thatdeveloping countries are more vulnerable to disasters andneed to undertake preventative measures to reduce vulner-ability programs within disaster risk reduction programs,early warning systems, and public saety awareness andpreparedness.Specically, governments are to adopt legal measures at thelocal and national levels to coordinate disaster response,and must ensure that programs or displaced persons do notincrease risk and vulnerability to hazards. Tough the gov-
2
Study Team on Climate-Induced Migration
2
Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced persons, Walter Kalin, Addendum: Protection of Internally Displaced Persons inSituations of Natural Disasters at 6, A/HRC/10/13/Add.1 (2009).
3
See, Final Report of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.206/6 (2005).
 
ernment in whose territory disaster occurs has the primary obligation to protect its citizens, international agencies andthe international community o nations share obligations o humanitarian assistance.Tough not express, the duty to cooperate among nationson disaster reduction and response could presumably in-clude an obligation o receiving states to provide some levelo assistance to victims o disasters that move into or remainin the state’s territory aer a disaster, at least on a temporary basis. Te Framework emphasizes more strategic coordina-tion among states. Its principles have been supported by the2006 Operational Guidelines on Human Rights and NaturalDisasters,
4
adopted by the Inter-Agency Standing Com-mittee o humanitarian agencies established by the UnitedNations to help countries coordinate disaster reduction andrelie, and the International Committee o the Red Cross(ICRC) Guidelines or the Domestic Facilitation and Regu-lation o International Disaster Relie and Initial Recovery Assistance.
5
International human rights law reinorces the humanitar-ian obligation o states to cooperate and assist governmentsless able to ulll and protect the human rights o thosedisplaced by a disaster. For example, the treaty body estab-lished to monitor the implementation o the InternationalCovenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stat-ed that “States parties have a joint and individual responsi-bility, in accordance with the Charter o the United Nationsand relevant resolutions o the United Nations GeneralAssembly and o the World Health Assembly, to cooperatein providing disaster relie and humanitarian assistance intimes o emergency, including assistance to reugees andinternally displaced persons.
6
While international law relating to reugees is generally inapplicable to climate change, certain reugee relatedprinciples and humanitarian norms convey governmentobligations that are relevant. Moreover, some governmentshave adopted voluntary discretionary mechanisms thatcould apply temporarily to protect international migrantsdisplaced by extreme weather events or by conict relatedto such events. However, as will be discussed, longer-termlegal protection is quite limited or international migrants.
Rights and obligations related to international migrants
As a general rule, people who move voluntarily or who areorced to move across an international border are entitled toall o their undamental human rights guarantees that pro-tect human dignity.
7
Tese include civil, political, economic,social and cultural rights such as the right o reedom o movement; to choose their place o residence; to engage inreligion or cultural practice; the right to lie, privacy and tohealth; the right to seek employment; and the right not to bediscriminated. With ew exceptions, however, this does notinclude a right to enter another country, to work or remainthere, or to receive the same legal protection as a reugeeunder international law.Tis poses a serious concern or disaster victims who acelittle alternative to survival than to cross into another coun-try because international migration may aord them greaterhuman security. Many victims o slow-onset droughtdisasters view themselves in this light. A prolonged droughtevent may not appear as urgent as a tsunami or ood whichattracts immediate international attention, but the need orprotection, or a new survival strategy, or jobs outside thedrought-aected area, e.g., via labor migration, may be justas compelling a humanitarian issue.Humanitarian agencies are increasingly occupied withdrought concerns in the Horn o Arica where, or example,a severe drought is entering its h year in the region.
8
Mil-lions o people are suering ood insecurity, water scarcity and loss o employment. Tis has led to increased migra-tion throughout the region. Te International Organiza-tion or Migration (IOM) recently reported that the bordero Liboi into Kenya has become a major border crossingor drought-aected Somalis who are undocumented butsearching or better livelihood or work in Kenya.
9
TeNorwegian Reugee Council also reported similar interna-
3
Study Team on Climate-Induced Migration
4
Protecting Persons Affected by Natural Disasters, IASC Guidelines (June 9, 2006).
5
Developed by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 30IC/07/R4 annex (2007).
6
General Comment 14, Right to Health, International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
7
Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, supra note 11, at 20.
8
The UN Ofce for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Reliefweb database, has documented the crises, and its ndings and related research can be found at: http://
www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/HHOO-7YZUNM?OpenDocument&rc=1&emid=ACOS-635NZE.
9
In Pursuit of the Southern Dream: Victims of Necessity 
, April 2009 (IOM, Geneva).

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