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Millions of future climate refugees may need protection, U.N. committee warns

climate refugees

Refugees fleeing their native countries due to the effects of the climate crisis in future years may not be forced to return if their lives are in danger, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in a ruling Monday. The committee anticipates a flood of “millions” of climate refugees in the near future.

The first-of-its-kind ruling — which a U.N. official called “powerfully symbolic” —came in the case of Ioane Teitiota, who applied for protection in New Zealand in 2013. Teitiota claimed his family’s lives were at risk in his home nation of Kiribati, a country severely threatened by rising sea levels. And while he actually lost his case, the U.N. committee took the opportunity to make a broader statement about climate refugees.

The situation in Tarawa, Teitiota’s home island, “has become increasingly unstable and precarious due to sea-level rise caused by global warming,” his counsel said. Saltwater contamination and overcrowding on the island have resulted in scarce freshwater resources and a growing housing crisis.

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In 1947, South Tarawa was home to just 1,671 people. In 2010, its population surpassed 50,000 after nearby islands became uninhabitable. By 2017, Kiribati’s population had soared to over 100,000 people.

CBSN On Assignment: Climate refugees in Kiribati
Additionally, storm surges and high tides have flooded residential areas. The population of the island suffers from vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, fish poisoning and other ailments resulting from food insecurity. Unemployment has surged in the region and diseases spread easily through overcrowding and poor quality drinking water.

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“Kiribati has thus become an untenable and violent environment for the author and his family,” the case argued. Scientists warn it could become uninhabitable within decades.

Teitota applied for refugee status in New Zealand after his visa expired in 2010. He was forced to return to Kiribati in September 2015 — putting his life and the lives of his family at risk, he said.

Teitota’s application was rejected, but he appealed, claiming the ruling violated his right to life. New Zealand’s Court of Appeal and Supreme Court each denied subsequent appeals, so he filed a complaint with the U.N.’s Human Rights Committee.

On Monday, the U.N. committee issued its judgment in the case. It ruled against Teitota — stating his life was not in immediate risk — but said that people in places where climate change poses an immediate threat to their lives could not be forced to return.

“The timeframe of 10 to 15 years, as suggested by the author, could allow for intervening acts by the Republic of Kiribati, with the assistance of the international community, to take affirmative measures to protect and, where necessary, relocate its population,” the ruling said.

READ ALSO: Croatia “Cruel and Violent” in Handling Migration

In the future, if the climate crisis continues, governments may be prohibited from sending people back to home countries that pose immediate threats to life due to climate change, the committee held, and potential human rights violations caused by climate change should be taken into account by nations considering the deportation of asylum seekers.

READ  Violence in Burkina Faso forces Malian refugees to return home

“Without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights,” the ruling said, citing articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ensuring people’s inherent right to life.

While Kiribati’s current situation was not enough to meet the standards of an immediate threat to life, the decision could become significant as the number of climate refugees is projected to increase.

“The decision sets a global precedent,” said Kate Schuetze, Pacific researcher at Amnesty International. “It says a state will be in breach of its human rights obligations if it returns someone to a country where — due to the climate crisis — their life is at risk, or in danger of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

However, the ruling “would not apply to U.S. asylum decisions at this point, because the court ruled against the claimant,” reports CBS News’ Pamela Falk, “but it opens the door to courts hearing climate claims in the future.”

“It is powerfully symbolic,” a U.N. official told Falk.

The U.N. expects tens of millions of people to be displaced due to the climate crisis in the next decade alone. A 2018 World Bank report predicted that 143 million people from South Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa could be forced to migrate due to climate conditions by 2050.

“The message is clear: Pacific Island states do not need to be underwater before triggering human rights obligations to protect the right to life,” said Schuetze.

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told Reuters that the ruling has broad implications for governments.

“The ruling says if you have an immediate threat to your life due to climate change, due to the climate emergency, and if you cross the border and go to another country, you should not be sent back, because you would be at risk of your life, just like in a war or in a situation of persecution,” Grandi said.

Wildfires, rising sea levels, crop destruction and floods are just a few of the results of the climate crisis that could drive large numbers of people from their homes.

“We must be prepared for a large surge of people moving against their will,” he said. “I wouldn’t venture to talk about specific numbers, it’s too speculative, but certainly we’re talking about millions here.”

(www.cbsnews.com)

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  Violence in Burkina Faso forces Malian refugees to return home

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

READ  Horrors of asylum seekers (2)

UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  Sudanese mother wins citizenship for her children after seven-year legal struggle

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

READ  Russian sailors jailed in Greece for 400 years for trafficking migrants – Reports

“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  A breakdown of Europe’s €1.5bn migration spending in Nigeria

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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