The Internally Displaced People International Relations Essay

The outbreak and the maintenance of armed conflicts have had a negative impact on peace, stability and security in many regions of the planet during world history, often resulting in the movement of people within and outside their home countries. During the past few decades, the global juncture has caused the forced population displacement to grow in size and complexity. Hitherto, the absence of a solution for millions of internally displaced persons in protracted situations continues to pose a major challenge to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and to other humanitarian agencies.

Although refugees have been a constant and accepted part of human displacement for centuries, the development of the nation-state and fixed borders in the 19th century caused countries to shun the migration across State borders. Thus, this increasingly difficulty to cross international borders steered towards internal displacement – creating IDPs rather than international displacement – creating resulting in refugees. At that time, groups of people facing religious or political persecution would often try changing to a more tolerant religion or political sight in order to avoid discrimination, since there was no international agency channeling protection to displaced people.

The largest people displacements of world history occurred Dduring the twentieth century, as a consequence of major political clashes and transitions were the key elements causing factors of the largest people displacements of world history. The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused led approximately 1.5 million Russians who opposed to communism to flee off their homes. In the Caucasus, more than one million Armenians fled their homelands between 1915 and 1923 to escape persecution and massacre during the Armenian Genocide.

The first concerted international effort to assist displaced people was made during World War I, when Herbert Hoover created a non-governmental organization called Commission for Relief in Belgium. By the end of the war, it had distributed five million tons of food and the equivalent to one billion dollars in aid to refugees and internally displaced people (LAUREN, 2003).

By the time, refugees and IDPs were immediately perceived not just as people displaced, but as people lacking protection and, explicitly, without the protection support of their own State. It was this gap that theThe League of Nations sought to fill this gap when it created, in 1921, the High Commission for Refugees to assist refugees and IDPs who were deprived of their habitual rights due to the social and political instabilities of the time. The establishment of this organization was the “first recognition that the international community has responsibility for protecting those forced to flee their homelands because of repression or war” (MINGST & KARNS, 2007, p. 168). The main activities of the agency included assisting displaced people from the Russian Revolution, from World War I and protecting other groups, such as Armenians, Assyrians, Assyro-Chaldeans, and Turks.

Fridtjof Nansen served the League of Nations as a delegate from Norway to the High Commission for Refugees. One of Nansen’s most important innovations was a document that specified which individuals were refugees; this became known as the Nansen Passport, which was accepted by more than 50 countries and was a precursor to many important documents regarding refugees and IDPs. For his work, Nansen received the Nobel Peace Prize. After Nansen’s death in 1930, the League replaced the High Commission with the Nansen International Office for Refugees (NOBEL FOUNDATION, ANO).

During the Great Depression and the run-up to World War II, States became less willing to help refugees and IDPs. This was partly the result of economic crisis and partly the result of a desire in to not to interfere in the affairs of other States.

For instance, although it was clear as early as 1933 that Jews and other minorities were being persecuted by the Gestapo, the official secret police of Nazi Germany, the German government protested against the accusations of the international community and the League of Nations took no action (GIBNEY & HANSEN, 2005). As the Dutch foreign minister explained:

We have no wish to examine the reasons why these people have left their country; but we are faced with the fact that thousands of German subjects have crossed the frontiers of neighboring countries and refused to return to their homes for reasons which we are not called upon to judge (HADDAD, 2008, p. 109).

In 1939, the Nansen Office was replaced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, under the protection of the League. Due to the outbreak of World War II – which divided and incapacitated the League of Nations -, the new office never complied with its objectives. Instead, each side dealt separately with refugees and internally displaced people, both of whom were more numerous than ever before, due to the worldwide scope character of the conflict and to the war technological developments.

During the war, 65 to 75 million people died, about half of whom were civilians, and million others were displaced due to persecution or to the eminent danger suffered by the population (LEITENBERG, 2006). The first population movements were those of the Jews and others fleeing off their homelands in Germany. Then, as Germany, Italy and Japan began to expand, Poles, Danes, Ethiopians, French, Chinese and many others were displaced from their habitual homes[1]. At the end of the war, the population movement reversed. According to the researcher Joseph V. O’Brien, in the immediate post-war period, millions of ethnic Germans that lived abroad were expelled from their homes, many of whom died in displaced-persons camps (O’BRIEN, 2007).

As soon as the war ended, in 1945, the United Nations organization was founded and its General Assembly created the International Refugees Organization (IRO). In 1950, the General Assembly replaced the IRO with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At that time – five years after World War II ended -, there were still more than one million refugees and IDPs from the war (LAUREN, 2003). The UNHCR remains until today the UN agency charged for overseeing programs related to displaced persons and, over the past 60 years, it has helped more than 100 million people in finding durable consistent solutions to their situations (UNHCR, 2009).

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, around two million Chinese fled off their homes to find shelter in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The world’s largest population movement in history occurred in 1947 when 18 million Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India were displaced from their homelands in the newly created countries of Pakistan and India. Also, aApproximately 3.7 million Germans fled from East Germany to West Germany between 1945 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was constructed.

After World War II, civil wars and conflicts caused by the bipolarity of the Cold War regime have accountedwere responsible for the vast majority of internal displacements of people. It is remarkable that during the first fifty years of the 20th century, most of the people displacements were hosted in Europe, Russia and China, whereas during the last fifty years of that century, the displacements steered towards Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Throughout the Cold War period, the most majority of internal displacements of people happened in Sudan, Guinea-Bissau, Indochina (Vietnam and Laos), Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Iraq (UNHCR, 1994).

In 1972, the civil war in Sudan forced 180,000 refugees to flee off their homelands and internally displaced another 500,000 persons within the country. In 1974, Guinea-Bissau established a local government was established in Guinea-Bissau and itand requested assistance to the UNHCR to stabilize the situation in the country; one of the main goals of this the supportrequest request was the to obtain aid to internally displaced persons. There are no official figures, but UN agencies estimate that there were at least 100,000 IDPs in the country, 30,000 of whom were beneficiaries of the UNHCR activities.

The war in Southeast Asia, especially in Indochina (Vietnam and Laos), displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. In Laos alone, 700,000 were estimated to be uprooted – either internally or externally displaced. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ethiopia was facing severe internal conflicts. In 1979, the Ethiopian government requested assistance to the UNHCR due to the IDPs, estimating that some 500,000 persons were homeless in the Ogaden region; by March of 1980, the figure had risen to 750,000. Following the Ethiopian government’s initial appeal, the High Commissioner delivered aid to 150,000 of the neediest internally displaced persons.

In the late 1970s, civil war uprooted around 660,000 persons in Zimbabwe. In 1980, the High Commissioner was asked by the United Nations Secretary- General Kurt Waldheim and the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe to coordinate aid programs for 410,000 internally displaced persons. The rehabilitation program included the provision of agricultural equipment and training, shelter, food, water and education. Similar episodes happened in Uganda and Chad.

Following the peace treaty between India and Sri Lanka, the former requested assistance to the reception of the returning refugees who were expected to be repatriated from India and to aid the hundreds of thousands of IDPs who were spread all over the country. This episode is one of the most successful UNHCR operations regarding refugees and IDPs, due to the joint effort of the local government and UN agencies. By 1990, some 800,000 IDPs and 50,000 returnees were receiving assistance. The operation provided the rebuilding of schools and housing, the construction of small-scale irrigation systems, a fishery and crop training, and the granting of temporary shelter.

Additionally to the above mentioned cases, the Cold War period also entailed a series of other small conflicts and localized quarrels that also caused the upward of internally displaced people in different regions of the world, where which asked support to the UNHCR was asked support. The High Commissioner also delivered assistance to IDPs in Cyprus (1974), Uganda (1979), Chad (1981), Lebanon (1982), Nicaragua (1987 and 1989), El Salvador (1989), Guatemala (1989) and Honduras (1989), among others (UNHCR, 1994).

The end of the Cold War led to the dissolution of countries, outbreak of local conflicts and changes in politics that caused unbridling persecution and a huge increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons around the world, most of which lasts until today. Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wwall, in the aftermath of Iraq‘s defeat by coalition forces in the Iran-Iraq War, at least one million persons were uprooted – 500,000 of whom still remain internally displaced. A similar episode happened in Yugoslavia, when the breakup of the country in various new States led to internal tensions and to the rise of IDPs. Many countries today still have a large number of IDPs, such as Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan, among others. Such cases will be later further explored in this article.

1 2. Statement Oof Tthe Issue

2 1.1 Definition of Internally Displaced People

There is no legal definition for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as, for instance, there is for refugees. We may define a refugee as a person who has left his or her home country due to fear of persecution and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country. Internally Displaced Persons have left their homes for similar reasons, but have not crossed an international border.

The most accurate definition of IDPs was given by a United Nations report entitled The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. It is important to understand that this definition is a descriptive definition concept rather than a legal definitionone. The report defines IDPs as:

Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, the situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border (OCHA, 2004).

Involuntary departure and, namely, the fact that the individual remains within his or her country are the two core defining elements of an internally displaced person. The first element distinguishes IDPs from persons who left their homes but could have otherwise safely remained where they previously lived. The second key element differentiates IDPs from refugees. Both of the categories of displaced persons often face similar deprivations; however IDPs remain within their country of habitual residence, whereas refugees don’tdo not.

2 1.2 The Protection OF of IDPS

Protection isinvolves about ensuring that all persons enjoy theiry rights on equal basis, in with safety and dignity. All persons have the equal right to protection, and so do so internally displaced persons. People in this situation face various barriers to their enjoyment of rights, which may threaten their immediate safety or deny them equal access to entitlements. After fleeing the effects of armed conflicts or human rights violations, IDPs often are often unsuccessful to in finding find security and safety in the place of displacement and still face attacks and violence, usually specifically targeted to their settlements.

It is import to acknowledge that displacement can affect individuals in different ways. Specific groups of persons, such as women, children, older personselderlies and minorities usually suffer marginalization in the communities and are less represented in formal decision making structures. This lack of representation results in the disregard ing of the specific risks that they face. In several countries, displaced children were particularly at risk of abduction and forced recruitment into armed groups while displaced women were exposed to risks of sexual and gender-based violence and abuses. Ignoring these discrimination and the particular risks faced by some members of the community may increase these risks and reinforce the discrimination and exclusion.

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The principles of equity that should underlie all policies and programmes are established for refugees by UNHCR . To quote from Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, no distinction, exclusion or restriction is to be made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, social, cultural, civil or any other field.

Regarding child’s protection, a ccording to the Convention on the Rights of the Child of , 1989, three principles must be respected: non-discrimination, participation, and the child’s “best interests”. Article 3 of the above cited Convention provides that “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” This principle ought to be applied to decisions affecting directly and indirectly individual and groups of children.

In several countries, displaced children were particularly at risk of abduction and forced recruitment into armed groups while displaced women were exposed to risks of sexual and gender-based violence and abuses. Ignoring these discrimination and the particular risks faced by some members of the community may increase these risks and reinforce the discrimination and exclusion .

As a matter of international law, it should be the duty of the government concerned to provide assistance and protection to internally displaced persons within their territorial State, in virtue of its sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention. Yet, as many of the displacements are a result of civil conflicts or quarrels where the authority of central states is in dispute, it is sometimes the very governments responsible for protecting and assisting their its internally displaced populations that are is unable or even unwilling to do so. Sometimes governments may even be directly involved in forcibly uprooting their own civilians (GPCWG, 2007).

At this point, the prevailing premises of sovereignty and non-intervention stand potentially against other principles of the international community, such as the commitment to human rights and to international cooperation in the unraveling of humanitarian problems. This approach gears works towards the possibility of an international organization claiming to involve itself in the situation and help the civilians at risk (GOODWIN-GILL, 2006).

Even though sometimes the national governments are unable or unwilling to protect and assist their internally displaced populations, the role of international actors is to reinforce, and not replace, national responsibility. International actors should support the development of national and local capacities to fulfill these responsibilities. However, in several countries, national authorities chose not to cooperate with international assistance to fulfill their responsibility towards IDPs, openly rejecting any help, imposing serious bureaucratic obstacles, and harassing humanitarian workers.

As IDPs do not cross international borders, they do notn’t have a well-established system of international protection. Unlike the case of refugees, there is no international organization which has the overall responsibility of protecting and assisting the internally displaced persons, despite the fact that. However they are increasingly at the forefront of the humanitarian agenda. Usually, aIn view of this situation, a number of organizations usually step into the breach and help in their specific areas. In 2005, the Principals of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee assigned responsibility for the protection of IDPs to a cluster of UN agencies and international organizations to be chaired by UNHCR. The cluster approach envisaged aimed at to fulfilling the significant capacity gaps that existed in the provision of the basic rights of the displaced persons in shelters and camps, such as the right to safety, education and food.

2 1.3 Population

Since the Cold War, the number of people uprooted by conflict, ethnic rivalry and human rights violations has soared. Sometimes natural boarders, such as mountains or rivers impede flight to other countries. In addition, some countries refuse to admit refugees becausebased on the costs and destabilization they cause, it can be too costly or destabilizing, which thus elevating es even more the population of internal displaced.

The humanitarian reform process initiated in 2005 with entails a view to reinforce leadership and coordination and has provided over the last few years a considerable institutional improvement in the response to the needs of IDPs. Meanwhile, an increasing number of states have developed or are developing legal instruments based on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Nonetheless, new internal displacement continues to occur and a relevant number of IDPs are in a situation where in which the possibility to return to their places of origin seems quite distantce.

It is very difficult to raise accurate figures for Internally Displaced Persons due to the lack of a unified definition of the term and to the fact that these populations are constantly fluctuating: some IDPs may be returning to their homes while others may be fleeing. Moreover, if on the one hand IDP cases in large camps, such as those in Darfur or Sudan, are relatively well-reported, on the other hand, it is very difficult hard to assess those IDPs who find shelter in large cities or in other people’s houses.

Since 2001, the global number of IDPs has remained almost unchangeduntouched, hovering around the 25 million mark. Neither the increase of international attention nor sState pledges to protect civilians from forced displacement has resulted in a substantial reduction of its population. The UNHCR estimates that there are around 26 million IDPs worldwide. Of this number, more than 16 million receive protection and assistance from the organization[2]. UNHCR’s involvement with IDP’s dates back to the 1970’s and has grown to the extent that IDP’s of concern to the organization outnumber refugees and asylum-seekers (UNHCR, 2009).

In 2008, about 4.6 million people were forced to leave their homes as a result of new outbreaks of conflict and violence in 24 of the 52 countries monitored. Of these, ten countries had large-scale new displacements of 200,000 people or more. Some 2.6 million people in 18 countries were reported to have returned. Large-scale returns of 200,000 people or more were reported in five countries: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Kenya and the Philippines. All of these countries, but except Uganda are also among the countries which experienced new large-scale displacements.

The number of IDPs in Africa was the lowest recorded in this decade, at 11.6 million. With the exception of Europe and Central Asia, the number of IDPs increased in all other regions. South and South-East Asia was the region with the largest relative increase in the IDP population: it grew 13 per cent in 2008 to reachreaching 3.5 million (IDMC, 2008).

According to a recent UNHCR report, Sudan has the largest number of IDPs in the world, with an estimated population outnumbering 4 million internally displaced persons. Sudan is being closely followed by Colombia, Pakistan and Iraq. Together, they host about half of the world’s IDPs and have more than 350 million dollars designated to aid them, sponsored by the UN. Besides them, other countries also have enormous IDP populations, such as Somalia, Uganda, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Côte d’Ivoire (UNHCR, 2009).

2.4. Displacement by Region

With 45 per cent of all IDPs, Africa still is the continent which hosts its larger population. However, compared to the region’s total population, the ratio of IDPs has fallen. In Somalia, the figure continues to increase an. dT the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains the world’s fourth largest displacement situation, with people returning home in some parts of the country and newly displaced by the armed conflict in the East. Sudan saw as well both large number of newly displaced people and returnees.

In the Americas, the situation of in Colombia is still worrisome, considering that the country has the second-largest displaced population in the world, mainly due to CONFLITO. Despite increased efforts in the national and international response to the displacement crisis, IDPs in Colombia continue to face protection problems.

In the Middle East, where most of IDPs are in this situation for decades, the population of internal displaced continuesis continually increasing to increase. Most of it has been displaced by armed conflicts in Yemen and Iraq.

In South and South-East Asia, the displacements are particularly significant in the Philippines – due to fighting between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Ffront (MILF) – and in Pakistan – due to fighting between the government and armed groups. The majority of the IDPs in this region returned home after a relatively short period of displacement.

The situation in Europe and Central Asia has changed little in the last few years and the internal displaced population remains around 2.5 million. A small number of it managed to achieve durable solutions to end their situation of prolonged displacement.

2.5. Jurisdiction

As citizens of their country, IDPs have the right to full and equal protection under the State’s national law, which should be compatible with the State’s obligations under international law. The challenge that international agencies, NGOs and States have faced is to identify the rights and guarantees inunder the international law that respond to the particular needs and protection risks that arise during displacement.

Since the release of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the international community and in particular the Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the human rights of IDPs has have worked to provide national authorities with the necessary guidance to fulfill their responsibility towards IDPs. Although it isn’t a binding document, it is based on the standards of international law, which are binding. It gleans the main rules of international law and refugee law, which are relevant for the protection in internal displacement, and establishes the responsibilities of States and other authorities towards them. The States recognize this document as “an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons”, as well as a “tool” and “standard” to guide governments and others international actors in situations of internal displacement.[3]

A growing number of governments are anchoring policies on the Principles, which therefore makinge themn binding at the domestic level. In 2001 the government of Angola based its law concerning the resettlement of the internally displaced on the provisions in the Guiding Principles; in 2004 the government of Peru adopted a law based on the Principles that provides material benefits to IDPs. Similarly, in Colombia the government announced more aid to IDPs in response to a Constitutional Court decision based on the Guiding Principles, while the government of Georgia brought its laws on voting rights into line with them. In Burundi, Liberia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Uganda governments have based their national policies on the Principles, with reported gains reported for IDPs. (COHEN, 2006)

Developments in the regional level are essential to reinforce national action. Human rights monitoring mechanisms in certain regions, such as Africa, Americas and Europe are increasingly engaged in addressing human rights issues in situations of internal displacement and in protecting IDPs. By the end of 2008, 11 countries of the Great Lakes Region in Africa had adopted the first binding multilateral instrument in the world aimed at implementing the Guiding Principles. The Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region, and more specifically its two Protocols on the Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and on the Property Rights of Returning Persons, provide states parties with a comprehensive policy framework for their national response to internal displacement. Despite such positive developments, many of these governments were not fulfilling their national responsibility towards IDPs.

There are still some key instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which cover a range of risks that IDPs often face and reinforce protection for specific groups particularly affected by displacement. The International Humanitarian Law is as well a significant protection mechanism, considering that internal displacement often occurs in situation of armed conflict. In most of the cases, the displacement could be avoided if the the obligations imposed by International Law were respected.

Even though considerable achievements have been made in the last ten years in the implementation of national laws and policies, it is noticeable the need to a more effective international system to assist and protect IDPs. While refugees are entitled to seek international protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1957 Protocol, the international community is not under the same legal obligation to protect IDPs. Internal displaced populations may flight for the same reasons as refugees, but they receive markedly less international protection. Ultimately, only political solutions to the underlining causes of the conflict causing displacement will ease the IDP crisis and reduce its population.

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Topic Area B: Climate Change and Human Displacement

1. Historical Background

The connection between climate change and human migration is not a recent phenomenon. It is broadly known that, throughout history, climatic changes have noticeably altered changed flora, fauna, and, hence, humanity’s way of life. Although aware that environment is not the only factor controlling the humanity’s destiny, academics have always taken on into account the role played by environmental factors in explaining population’s history and the emergence of cities. For instance, the passage across the Bering Straits from America 13.000 years ago was only possible due to the ice Ice Age. Additionally, llow sea levels and the desertification of Sahara and the Arabian Peninsula have played a key role in the emergence of the ancient Egyptian civilization. FONTE

In this sense, it is important to observe that climatic events have had various effects over communities in different parts of the world and throughout distinct periods of history. Their influence in a given time and place have been largely connected with the way in which those communities and their sources of subsistence were organized. For example, cereal cultivation by settled societies who based their livelihood in non-irrigated agriculture was highly dependent on the amount and incidence of precipitation during the growing season. When the level of precipitation decreased significantly – or on the occurrence of a drought period -, usual outcomes were harvest failures and famines,; forcing communities to leave their homes. For example, in the case of the Zhou tribes, in China, around 3550 and 2200 B.C., climatic conditions were one of the main factors that contributed to the constant relocations of that community near the Yellow River. FONTE

The situation is quite different, however, in societies that based their subsistence on irrigated agriculture. The Ancient Egyptian civilization, for instance, had its powerful crop production totally depending on the Nile River. Its territory had an arid climate with extremely low levels of precipitation, but people were not threatened by climatic events because they have developeddue to the development of a rather sophisticated irrigation system system. , people weren’t threatened by climatic events. Hence, in those conditions, climate was notn’t a migration driven force. FONTE

Taking that on in account, it is important to realize how the phenomena resultinged from climate events have has influenced humankind and its history. For instance, the strong link between pluviometry and population density has been clearly shown in the case of droughts verified in the American Great Plains, in the 1890s, 1910s and 1930s, which were responsible for mass displacement of up to 75% of the population from drought-stricken regions towards California. The same connection between climate phenomena and population displacement was also noticed in the Sahel region, between the years of 1969 and 1974, where droughts triggered migration of millions of farmers and nomads to the cities (PIGUET, 2008). Other significant examples of droughts causing great population displacement were the Sudan case, in 1988, when nearly 2.7 million people were forced to migrate (MAHRAN, 1995); and the Northeast of Brazil, in 1985, where severe climate conditions were the main responsible variables for a rural-urban mass displacement (SMITH, 2001).

Nevertheless, droughts have not been the only climate related circumstances that had affected communities and caused human migration. For millennia, people have sought to protect themselves against the negative impacts of high-magnitude floods. In fact, city walls against flooding are reported to have been built as early as 4000 years ago, in China (WU, 1989). This ancient concern is well justified, considering that extraordinary floods – which were part of a climate variability period that lasted approximately from 4200 B.C to 4000 B.C – have caused the collapse of the highly developed Neolithic civilizations over plains along the lower course of the Yellow River. Also, and the Yangtze River Floods have continued onto cause causing destruction and deaths in China, as exemplifies the floods of 1954 along the Yangtze River, which killed more than 30.000 people, and the floods of 1998, which devastated parts of central China killing more than 3.600 people and leaving 15 million people homeless. (SUH, 1998 and CHINA DAILY, 1998)

Similar flood tragedies have also happened in different parts of the world, tending to have more drastic effects on developing countries. This is illustrated, for example, by the Mexican flood of 1999, when widespread flooding hit the Gulf of Campeche, and devastated mudslides in nine Mexican states. More than 400 people died and at least 200.000 people lost their homes, being either temporarily or permanently displaced. In that sense, it is noticed that flood disasters have also been accounting for a major force of displacement all over the world as 167 million people were affected by them by the year of 2002. (IFRC, 2003).

At last, another climate related natural phenomenaon that haveve significantly affected mankind for ages are hurricanes and tropical cyclones. Bangladesh was one of the world most affected countries by this kind of natural disaster, facing a total of 117 tropical cyclones from 1877 to 2003 (ISLAM and PETERSON, 2009). The Bhola tropical cyclone that hit Bangladesh in November of 1970 was one of the most devastating of the century with a loss of at least 300.000 lives. In this case, the storm not only had social implications, but also some political side-effects, since the Pakistani government was severely criticized for its handling of the relief operations following the storm, triggeringed a revolution that brought independence from Pakistan and the establishment of Bangladesh as a country. Nevertheless, the region has yet suffered again with another cyclone of high magnitude, in April of 1991, which killed approximately 140.000 people and destroyed more than 800.000 homes.

Despite the fact that climate has been an important variable to determine population movements, only recently human migration caused by climate change has more seriously aroused in the international arena. In fact, the issue strongly emerged concomitant to increasing concerns of the international community on climate change and its consequences. In 1985, the term “environmental refugees” was first coined as a report title for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), underlining early concerns of the international community regarding effects that climate change and natural disasters in general could have. Ever since, even though it is not a consensus within the international community, the term has been widely diffused in both political and academic circles (EL-HINNAWI, 1985).

Past experiences described above regarding the relationship between human migration and environmental changes throughout history are very important to be taken on in account when tackling the current climate change. Although as previously argued Tthis situation is, by no means, a new one; it has just recently taken devastating proportions. The international community, in this regard, must be aware of past challenges in order to better address the present issue within UNHCR scope.

2. Statement of the Issue

“Our foot is stuck on the accelerator and we are heading towards an abyss.”

(Ban Ki-Moon, 2009, at the World Climate Conference)

2.1 Climate change and related consequences

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that climate change “is the greatest collective challenge we face” (2009). It is a clear-cut fact that it is a natural phenomenon. However, it is also remarkable that anthropogenic action has performed an extensive role in deepening this natural event. Hence, it is beyond any cavil that the greenhouse effect is a naturally-driven effectoutcome, which has permitted life in earth to develop in retaining heat in the atmosphere. Briefly, gGreenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, are responsible for naturally maintaining some of the sun’s radiation on earth, instead of reflecting it back into space, thus keeping the world a warm place. Nonetheless, when compounded with greenhouse gases originated from anthropogenic action, the global temperature may achieve levels that could lead to the elimination of all forms of life on earthEarth. FONTE

On this sense, studies estimate an increase of the global average surface temperature of 0.74C over the last century, and temperature is still expected to increase more, between 1.8C to 4C by 2100 – a rapid and profound change – should the necessary and proper action not be taken. Even if the minimum predicted increase takes place, it will be larger than any century-long trend in the last 10,000 years. Hence, it is not on discussion whether climate change can be stopped – it is irreversible, as its consequences are already being brutally experienced. What can be done, on the other side, is the larger possible reduction of its future effects, which includes agricultural and hydrological drought, tropical cyclones, inundation, flooding and desertification, among others. All these factors, bringing serious consequences by themselves, do also aggravate one of the already most triggering questions of public international law – the (forced) human migration, be itwhether as refugees or as internally displaced persons – a major issue which urges for a proper and humanitarian solution, as it involves human dignity, free will – the will of oneself to determine where to live and where to go, human rights and sovereignty, in a difficult – yet necessary – balance of values and principles.

In 1988, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the World Metereological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In 1990, this group delivered a first assessment report, which contained the views of 400 scientists. This report stated that global warming was real and action towards it was urgent. These findings induced governments to create the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was ready for signature at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, popularly known as the “Earth Summit”, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. IPCC has now a well-established role, in reviewing worldwide researches and issuing regular assessment reports. Moreover, the UNFCCC proposes definitions in order to bring consensus over this matter. Thus, “climate change” is thereby defined as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods” (UNFCCC, Art.1). This conceptual systematization allowed governments to seek for a joint response, guided by the principles and commitments set forth in the UNFCCC, to decrease the worst projections which come along with the increase of the global temperature.

Nevertheless, surrounding the global commitment theoretically reached by this convention, there is also an intriguing ethical problem to be approached: the countries which did contribute larger for the emission of carbon dioxide, namely, the countries of the socio-political North, are the ones which are less likely to experience the worst effects of climate change. Concretely, the developed countries emitted two thirds of the carbon dioxide resulting from anthropogenic action in the atmosphere, while countries in under development have only contributed with one third of these emissions (NOBRE, 2010). Accordingly, there is an increasing debate on how to balance the unequal contribution of each country to this problem, and yet to find a wide array of gradual and permanent solutions which can arrange for each country to low its dioxide emissions without barring its progress and development, i. In order to establish consensus over these conflicts, which are highly charged with a political voice on how to respond to climate change. To counterbalance this sensible situation, it is important to recourse to the IPCC’s findings, once they reflect global scientific consensus and are apolitical in character. Thusly, IPCC reports are frequently used as the basis for decisions made under the Convention, and they played a major role in the negotiations leading to theKyoto Protocol, a second, more far-reaching international treaty on climate change that entered into force on 16 February 2005, after long rounds of negotiation to try to conciliate these disparities, in by imposing varying limits on carbon dioxide emissions. FONTE, FONTE, FONTE

Moreover, in December 2009, officials from over 110 countries met in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, in order to conclude an agreement that would enter into force after the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The meeting was the culmination of a process that began in 2007, when Governments at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, launched the Bali Road Map, a two-year negotiating process to design an ambitious and effective international climate change deal to follow on the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol. FONTE Although the rounds of negotiation ended with only 26 countries signing the Copenhagen Accord, this Accord, yet to prove its value and not binding in character, has, at least, a symbolic strength, in drawing the world’s leaders attention to this issue. Some countries left Copenhagen unsatisfied with its outcome, as Brazil, Bolivia, Cuba,the Maldives, Tuvalu and Venezuela. Others were pleased, in recognizing in the Accord a joint start to a further commitment, as Australia, Great Britain, India, People´s Republic of China and the United States.

2.2 Population

Whether more rigid or more complacent measures are taken, one fact is indisputable: people moving as a result of environmental changes by the middle of this century, either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis, will vary between 50 and 200 million. FONTE This framework will present a series of challenges for the displaced, as well as for the authorities concerned, as evacuations before and during disasters, relocations when returning to the original place of residence is are not possible or too dangerous, and, more generally, the need to find durable solutions for those among the displaced who cannot return and resume their normal lives in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Another point to complicate this issue is the double obligation carried by States – which have to, under human rights obligations, to prevent ensuing threats to the life and property of persons, at the same token, it has also the duty to respect its individuals´ decisions, abstaining from exerting any pressure regarding the freedom of movement of its population. That is, people displaced by natural disasters or other effects of climate change have the right to freedom of movement, including the right to freely decide whether to remain in or to leave an endangered area and the right to opt freely to return to their homes, to relocate elsewhere in the country or to locally integrate. That is, this will cause governments to structure an institutionalized solution to provide to these persons an efficient withdrawal, conditions to a proper reestablishment, balancing all these factors with the guarantee of respect for their crystallized human rights.

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Notwithstanding the future provisions, brutal results of climate change are already being sensed on the sphere of human displacement, although it is important to highlight that climate change and human migration have had a long-term association throughout human history (see Historical Background).. We couldIt is possible to associate connect climate change and the increase of migration in several ways, either directly or indirectly, for in the discussion of environmental refugees many scholars agree that migration caused to a substantial part by environmental change is happening.FONTE Nonetheless, what generally stands out is the key concept of multi-causality of migration. There are always many other factors interacting dynamically that play an important role in movements of migration, even whenre an effect of climate change is present. Hence, the concomitance of climate change and migration is an indicator for tion of but should not be mistaken as evidence for a causal linkage. Even with this warning, it is important,, prior to providing cases of direct relation between climate change and human displacement, to highlight that, in this movement, the indirect relations between climate change and displacement shall also be brought to attention, for example:


2.3 Ongoing displacements related to climate change

For a more concrete framework, it is important to bring to the spotlight the effects already in course of the rising sea in the Pacific Islands, which is, so far, the most affected region in the world by this effect of climate change. On these islands, the rising sea levels have been a source of great insecurity for the populations in question, which are being forced to consider relocation as a very likely option. One of the most extreme cases is the one from the island of Tuvalu, which has its territory invaded by sea water at every high tide – what interrupts the potable water supplying on the island, causing muchsevere problems trouble to the inhabitants, and threatening their subsistence. A unilateral action has been developed by New Zealand to support the Tuvalu people. It has created: the creation of a special immigration program aiming to at relocatinge on its New Zealander territory the entire population of Tuvalu – which is currently estimated in approximately 11 thousand people. Nevertheless, the international community as a whole still has to undertake several other actions regarding situations such as these. FONTE

Similar conditions are faced by the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea, where a combination of coastal erosion, destruction of sea walls and inundation by salt water has severely damaged the fertility of the lands, which are the source of subsistence to most citizens. Since the emergency food supplies are not likely to last for long, there is a very clear possibility of relocation of these population to the plantations on the neighboring island of Bougainville as soon as 2011 (UNHCR Website).

In order to tackle the concerning matter of the rapid increase of sea levels, in the 1990s a heterogenic group of 43 Island-Nations has gathered to form the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The group has been intending to call out the attention of the international community to their pressing matter and push the international organisms to take the necessary measures to prevent major climate changes; however, they have not been achieving much success over the last years.

Another effect of climate change has been frequent drought conditions and desertification in some regions of the planet. According to the International Disaster Database, 146 million people, on average, were affected by droughts between 2000 and 2005 FONTE. The latest report of the IPCC predicts increased water shortages especially in the Asian and African continent, which threatens to affect 74 to 250 million by 2020. For instance, Ethiopia has been facing serious drought conditions since 2007, which have led to starvation and driven population migration to refugee camps in other parts of the continent. FONTE

These conditions are also being faced by the people in Somalia, which is considered to be one of the most vulnerable states of the world to the impacts of climate change. Somalia, a collapsed state that have faced 20 years of armed conflicts, droughts and floods, had its drought cycle changed over the last decades from once every ten years to become an unpredictable constant. “In 2009, the drought intensified in many regions, and in the places that experienced rain, it often came in the form of unexpected and heavy rainfalls that often killed off much of the livestock that was already weak from the drought” (KOLMANNSKOG, 2009). For a country that has livestock and rain-fed agriculture as its main livelihoods and components of the economy, this environmental circumstances are of the utmost gravity. In addition, the combination of armed conflicts with climate change effects has been working as a major stimulator to mass migration flows both inside and outside Somalia’s borders. In one hand, the scarcity of resources appears to escalate the preexisting conflicts by increasing competition; whereas these conflicts, on the other hand, may exacerbate the droughts, considering that war and military activities have detrimental impacts on the environment. Initially, many Somalis have been fled, from the intense conflict in Mogadishu and its surrounding areas towards the countryside; however, due to constant drought and environmental degradation in these areas too, they have often been forced to go across the border to Kenya.FONTE The climate situation in Kenya, nevertheless, is also very fragile, considering that some parts of the country haves faced severe flooding conditions in 1997, 2003, 2006 and once again in 2009-2010; whereas other parts of the country have been threatened by terrible droughts. FONTE

Moreover, climate change has also been causing some sudden-onset disasters, such as floods and storms. According to the International Disaster Database, between 2000 and 2005, approximately 106 million people were affected by flooding worldwide, whereas 38 million were affected by hurricanes. FONTE An example of that is the Katrina Hurricane, a Category 4 Storm that hit theGulfCoastregion of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, in the United States of America, on 29th August of 2005. That hurricane has brought about the displacement of over 1 million people, mostly of whom have moved to other states in the US, especially Texas,Tennessee,GeorgiaandCalifornia.

2.4 Jurisdiction

Another issue at stake is that people displaced solely due to the effects of climate change cannot be described as “climate refugees”. According to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, refugee is “[any person who,] . . . owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Consequently, the terms “environmental refugee” and “climate refugee” have no legal basis in under international refugee law. Some states and NGOs have suggested that the aforementioned convention should simply be amended and expressly extended to include people who have been displaced across borders as a result of long-term climate change or sudden natural disasters. Another NGO´s, however, fear that the to broadening the scope of protection given by international instruments, as the Convention of Cartagena, will lessen their efficacy and jeopardize the willing of the governments to properly apply their clauses. Finally, broaden or limiting the scope of the term “refugee” does not alter the fact that how vulnerable people are to climatic hazards is determined by a complex interaction of social, economic, and political processes, which bring us back to the economical disparities among countries and its consequences in finding a global solution to refrain impede the worst projections of the effects of climate change to become a reality.


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[1] In China alone, 60 million people were homeless.

[2] The number of protected IDPs is the highest figure on record.

[3] United Nations General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome resolution adopted by Heads of State, UN doc. A/RES/60/1, 15 September 2005, para. 132.

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