IIT MADRAS

Guwahati: IIT Madras researchers have called for countries to absorb people fleeing due to the impact of climate change globally.

With climate change intensifying the push to migrate, researchers have suggested that all asylum seekers have to be absorbed into host countries under the principle of ‘non-refoulment’. This will ensure that refugees are not forced to return to their home countries to face harm.

Indian Institute of Technology Madras Researchers working with an independent research scholar has suggested a normative framework to address cross-border migration due to climate change.

Also, asylum seekers from vulnerable zones must be absorbed in host countries in proportion to their greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers conclude that given the severity of the anticipated Global Environmental Changes and associated harms, taking early and appropriate action is vital.

However, the question ‘Did this person migrate because of climate change?’ may never be fully answered.

This issue was taken up by Prof. Sudhir C. Rajan, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras and Dr Sujatha Byravan, an Independent Scholar, who has published a Research paper titled ‘Cross border migration on a warming planet: A policy framework.’

They propose a normative framework with responses to address cross-border migration. The paper was published in the reputed peer-reviewed journal WIRES Climate Change.

Speaking about the need for such research, Prof. Sudhir Chella Rajan, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras, said, “In recent years, the increased risks of environmental hazards including climate change, have intensified the push to migrate. One such case is the teeming slums of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, where the residents are on the frontlines of a climate crisis. People living along the coast have been migrating to the Bangladeshi capital due to monsoon flooding and cyclones caused by rising sea levels. For these residents, the worsening climate change is not a faraway threat. It is a grim reality.”

Further Prof. Sudhir C. Rajan, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras, said, “Climate scientists have known for more than a decade that tens of millions of people, if not more, will be forcibly displaced from some of the poorest countries as a result of climate change. If their countries are no longer viable homes through no fault of their own, the international community has a moral responsibility to provide refuge.”

Elaborating on the need for such Research, Dr Sujatha Byravan, co-author of this research and an independent scholar, said, “There is an urgent need to ensure that people from countries that have emitted very little greenhouse gases are not left fending for themselves. Climate exiles or migrants have no legal standing. These are the kinds of issues that ought to be addressed in the climate negotiations track of Loss and Damage under non-economic losses.”

Migration- the result of multiple factors:
The study points out that the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that 40.5 million people were newly displaced in 2020 and 30 million among these were forcibly displaced due to weather-related disasters.

Usually, migration is a result of compound factors. The multiple interconnections among the drivers of migration – a combination of ongoing Global Environmental Changes (GECs) as they interact with social, economic and political conditions – makes it difficult to identify GEC as the only or proximate cause of migration.

Hence, the researchers have identified a normative framework which highlights that the prevailing international law is barely adequate to protect the entire class of forcibly displaced people.

Refugee vs asylum seekers vs environmental migrant (The Definition proposed by IIT Madras Researchers):

Refugee – a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, or religion, among others; and is unable to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution.”

Asylum seeker – a person outside their country of origin who has sought protection under the Convention but still is awaiting the outcome of their claim to refugee status.

Climate or Environmental Migrant – a person who is forced to leave their home predominantly for reasons of climate or other environmental change.

In the study, the researchers use the term ‘climate exiles’ to designate those cross-border environmental migrants for whom the push for migration is mainly because of climate change. There is the absence of a coherent institutional and legal framework at international and national levels to protect the rights of climate exiles. This creates an urgent need to work on international law to protect climate exiles.

A sensible response for climate exiles: It is difficult, if not impossible in most cases, to identify a specific climate-related event as being responsible for migration. Waiting for clarity and classifying people based on whether they migrate because of climate change may moreover worsen the scenario. Hence, the researchers suggest ‘strong’ and ‘mild’ versions of the case for remedial justice for climate migrants.

STRONG APPROACH:
It says all asylum seekers must be deemed worthy of refuge, even if they do not meet the narrower requirements of the Refugee Convention. Parties who want to protect climate exiles must honour all identifiable asylum seekers under a non-refoulement principle. The host countries may choose to formulate a protocol for developing shares that are proportionate to their cumulative emissions.

MILD APPROACH:
It emphasises identifying vulnerable zones based on scientific evidence. Low-lying states, countries with low lying delta regions, areas facing desertification or flooding, and hill-slopes subject to erosion, are all vulnerable zones. The researchers say that asylum seekers from vulnerable zones must be given rights to free movement and absorbed in host countries, in proportion to their greenhouse gas emissions or through a similar fair agreement. 

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