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To: The UK Government
Legal Recognition for Climate Refugees
Migration is at the forefront of current affairs, but the internationally recognised definition of a refugee has not changed since the 50’s and 60’s. Recent years have revealed that climate change has increasingly become a driving force behind migration. It can lead to displacement in different ways; it is not as simple as just those who have had their homes destroyed by extreme weather or environmental disaster, climate change also means that those who are reliant on agriculture to provide money and food can often be left with neither after crop failures, droughts or flooding.
Currently under UK law, people who have been forced to leave their home due to human-caused climate-related disasters or processes like rising sea levels, environmental conflict and desertification are classed only as economic migrants. This means they are not able to apply for asylum and face huge barriers to finding a new place to live safely. These laws are based on international conventions from the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, long before the true threat of climate change had become apparent. These definitions must be updated to address the plight of those affected by contemporary climate crises, and to prepare for the further impacts of climate change which will intensify in the coming decades.
Why is this important?
Already millions are displaced by climate related issues. Between 2008 and 2015 the UNHCR estimates 22.5 million people were displaced by climate or weather related events. This number will by all estimations continue to increase, as extreme weather becomes more and more frequent and intense due to climate change. It has been discovered that rising temperatures in developing countries have correlated to an influx of asylum applications to the EU, and fair policy must be implemented in preparation for this change.
It is a widely acknowledged fact that people in developing countries are disproportionately affected by the devastating effects of climate change, despite not being responsible for the majority of emissions that cause these changes. This is why we believe that the UK government has a responsibility to update their migration policy to acknowledge that people leaving their homes because of climate change is a form of forced migration, and those people should be able to seek asylum here in Britain. Climate change is happening, and this is an opportunity for the UK to be a global pioneer for action to respond to its challenges to humanity.