Environmental activists challenge anti-migration 'myths'

(Originally published by Equal Times)
Translations: Español | Francais 

Debates over the likely effects of global warming on international migration patterns have been raging for years. But this September, British environmental activists will hold a conference in an attempt to curb scaremongering about mass immigration from sections within the green movement.
A beach in Sri Lanka. The country will be one of the worst hit by climate
change according to UNEP

Alex Randall of the UK Climate and Migration Coalition, who is organising the round-table discussion, said attendees will discuss the relationship between global warming and migration.

“Unfortunately some parts of the green movement see immigration as something that might exacerbate environmental problems and we want to challenge that.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that climate change might have implications for migratory patterns but what we don’t want to suggest is that climate change will result in millions of people coming to the UK, which isn’t true.”

In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations University predicted there could be up to 50 million environmental refugees worldwide by 2010. Similar claims were made by leading environmentalists, including Norman Myers, a professor at Oxford University, who repeated the 50 million figure at a conference in Prague in the same year.

However, the UN subsequently distanced itself from the forecast in 2010 following the release of official statistics showing that populations in many areas classified as endangered by UNEP – including Bangladesh, the Cook Islands and Western Sahara – were increasing.

Dr Alexander Betts, Associate Professor in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, says making predictions about climate migration can be dangerous:

“Some of the claims that have been made by authors like Norman Myers, claims about particular numbers of “environmental refugees” have been absolutely baseless. I think far too much focus has been on trying to make predictive claims, and a lot of these have been made for political purposes.”

Instead Betts believes a greater effort should be made to address the needs of those most at risk.

“The main substantive issues are how do we strengthen development planning to enhance communities’ resilience and how do we strengthen human rights mechanisms and humanitarian response to ensure that people who flee as “survival migrants” – because of whatever cause – have access to protection.”

Betts’ concerns are reiterated by Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, who told Equal Times that countries like Britain should ensure that all climate migrants are protected.

“What we would have to do as a global community if and when we do see large numbers of climate change refugees, we’ve got to find a way to allow them to recreate their lives with their families and rebuild their lives in a safe way.

“We need to provide humanitarian assistance wherever possible and feasible and we absolutely need to help people to transform their economies towards a sustainable future.”

The event, on 19September at the Amnesty International Human Rights Centre in London, will also call for closer ties between environmental groups and migrant organisations.

Don Flynn, Director of the Migrant Rights Network, said: “We are keen to challenge the scare stories of the Malthusian doom-merchants and welcome the fact that the mainstream green movements in the UK share our broad viewpoint.  Most scientific opinion inclines to the view that the issue is not the absolute numbers of humans on the planet but the way resources are distributed and utilised.

“We hope we can work with these currents to strengthen the view that good environmental policies need to address inequalities and imbalances of power in the world today, amongst which are immigration policies which aim to pin the poorest people in the regions of the greatest poverty.”