Climate change is an existential threat to humanity and as such, should be included in legislation on asylum seeking.
Despite recent and increasing efforts by the United States and other governments to narrow their interpretations of the refugee definition and to shirk their protection responsibilities, the need to expand the grounds for asylum is becoming increasingly urgent as the consequences of climate change become more pronounced.
A desperate appeal for asylum by a family from a Pacific island may have far-reaching implications for protecting people forcibly displaced by the effects of climate change. It could cause countries around the world to reconsider their laws and policies concerning refugees.
The case involves the Teitiota family, who fled the island of Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati in 2007 and sought asylum in New Zealand in 2013. Ms Teitiota told the New Zealand court that she feared for her children’s health and wellbeing, that crops and coconut trees on the island were dying.
She explained that because of rising sea levels, people were moving from neighbouring atols to Tarawa which led to overcrowding, frequent conflicts between residents and the spread of disease. She shared stories about children getting diarrhoea and even dying because their already scarce drinking water had become contaminated.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court of New Zealand dismissed the case, saying the family did not meet the standards required by the Refugee Convention and deported them in 2015.
That same year, the father of the family filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, an independent expert body that monitors government compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He claimed that New Zealand had violated his right to life under the covenant because the sea level rise had shrunk habitable space in Kiribati, resulting in violent land disputes and environmental degradation.
On January 7, the Committee issued its views, finding the threats to life posed by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change necessitate a broadening of refugee law. “The obligation not to extradite, deport or otherwise transfer pursuant to article 6 of the Covenant,” the committee said, citing its provision on the right to life, “may be broader than the scope of non-refoulement under international refugee law, since it may also require the protection of aliens not entitled to refugee status.”
The principle of non-refoulement is a cornerstone of international refugee law, barring the return of refugees – defined as people with a well-founded fear of being persecuted – to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
The committee noted that Kiribati will become uninhabitable within the next 10 to 15 years because of rising sea levels. Both sudden events, like storms, and slow processes, like salinisation and land degradation, the committee said, “can propel cross-border movement of individuals seeking protection from climate-change related harm thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states.”
Under a “moderate future scenario”, scientists project that sea level rise in the next 30 years will put about 150 million people permanently below the high tide line. Although most of this displacement will not compel people to cross international borders, people living in countries like Kiribati, which are likely to become completely inundated, will have no choice but to seek asylum outside their country.
But Pacific islands are not alone in facing such threats. In landlocked countries like Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe, where populations are heavily reliant on agriculture and livestock, rising temperatures have contributed to flooding, drought, famine and disease that erode not only arable land but also the resilience of populations that have suffered armed conflict and human rights violations.
Whether environmental disasters are the direct cause of displacement or an aggravating factor in combination with violence, inequality, and poor governance, millions of people on the African continent have already been displaced internally or forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries because they consider staying at their homes a threat to their lives.
Because the committee held out hope that the government of Kiribati still has time to intervene to protect its citizens through relocation and other measures, it did not accept the family’s claim that their rights had been violated, saying the risk to their lives was not imminent.
One of the dissenting committee members who ruled on this case, however, wrote that the family would “have no access to safe drinking water, which poses an imminent threat to their lives,” while another said, “It would indeed be counterintuitive to the protection of life, to wait for deaths to be very frequent and considerable; in order to consider the threshold of risk as met.”
While there still may be room to argue whether life-threatening threats are imminent in particular cases, the Human Rights Committee has recognised that fundamental refugee-protection principles need to be broadened now.
This means not only that our common understanding of what it means to be a refugee needs to change, but also that the 173 countries that are party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should ensure their asylum standards and procedures are adapted to protect all who face existential threats if returned to home countries that have become unlivable.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre releases report on ‘Migration from and within West and North Africa’
IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre released the newly edited volume “Migration in West and North Africa And Across the Mediterranean: Trends, Risks, Development, Governance”. This publication is the result of a highly collaborative effort involving several IOM offices and organizations participating in the programme: Safety, Support and Solutions II (SSSII) funded by the United Kingdom Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as well as other international, non-governmental and civil society organizations, and research institutions.
Timely, reliable, disaggregated data and contextual information related to people on the move are imperative for well-informed, well-managed and humane policymaking on migration. A nuanced understanding of migration realities is especially important in contexts such as North and West Africa and the Central Mediterranean, where migration movements result from a combination of different and complex factors.
This volume, divided in four sections, dedicated to migration trends risks, development, and governance, focuses on West and North Africa, and mostly covers the period 2018–2019. Its four sections deal with four of the most salient features of migration along the Central Mediterranean Route: recent trends and data issues, development implications, risks and vulnerabilities, as well as national, regional and cross-regional governance elements. The report provides a comprehensive, fact-based account of migration from and within West and North Africa and across the Mediterranean, with the aim of promoting more coherent, forward-looking and sustainable policy approaches, in line with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).
There are eight main take-aways from this volume:
- Recognize migrants’ agency: migrants from West and North Africa adopt flexible mobility-based strategies to contribute to their own and their communities’ resilience and development.
- Address inequalities in migration: Migrants adapt their mobility-based strategies to changing policies, labour market opportunities, border controls and risks.
- Understand linkages between migrants’ profiles and circumstances, and exposure to risks and their ability to cope with them.
- Ensure the basic rights of migrants irrespective of their legal status.
- Recognize the complexity of migrant smuggling.
- Deconstruct misconceptions and fears about African migration.
- Support policies informed by evidence and monitor their impact.
- Produce and analyze administrative data to inform opinions and governments.
This publication is released at a time of great uncertainty regarding migration and changing socioeconomic dynamics around the world, especially during the ongoing global health crisis COVID-19, which further exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities. However, this volume is anticipated to improve evidence on migration in these regions, and its use for programming and policy in the wider context of migration governance
Experts speak on importance of accurate data on migration to implement GCM
Global migration experts have suggested that countries should ensure having adequate and accurate data of outgoing and returning migrant workers to take effective interventions at the national levels to protect the migrants during this COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Speaking at the first session of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) webinar series held on Tuesday (September 1), they underscored the need for collecting and utilizing disaggregated migration data to promote safe, orderly and regular migration.
The webinar series happened under part of the six months Certificate Programme on “Global Compact for Safe Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)” hosted by Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Cross Regional Center for Refugees and Migrants (CCRM), Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism (GRFDT), and the Civil Society Action Committee (CSAC).
MFA regional coordinator William Gois who moderated the sessions threw the volley of questions before the expert panelists to highlight what kind of data actually needed for the countries as these data helped them shaping the migration policies.
He said that the respective countries themselves should determine what kind of data especially on remittance and migration, returning migrants they need for collection to take measures including the reintegration of the COVID affected returnees.
William said that although collecting and utilizing accurate and disaggregated data becomes ‘the first objective of the GCM but it is not the easy objective to work with.’
About 500 participants joined the webinar discussed that the UN member states agreed on the goals of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) for managing international migration in all dimensions.
The non-binding GCM encompassed a total of 23 objectives for better managing migration at local, national, regional and global levels.
The Objective 1 of the GCM begins with a commitment to collect and utilize accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies.
Speaking a panelist, Bela Hovy, Chief of Publications, Outreach and Support Unit in UN DESA highlighted the importance of migration data for implementation of the global compact for migration.
“Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is extremely practical. We don’t need further guidance. In fact, let us make it work. There are lots of low-hanging fruits but quite few actions can be easily implemented. We cannot progress on data in our daily works step by step bottom up,” Bela said.
A presentation was made on background history of the GCM, an intergovernmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations that covered all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.
It was formally endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly on 19 December 2018.
In his concluding remarks, Bela Hovy stressed the need for collecting accurate and disaggregated data on migration to simultaneously implement the 2030 agenda and the GCM in all spheres.
Echoing the importance of migration data, Sonia Plaza, Senior Economist in the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice of the World Bank, mentioned that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) included the issues of migrant workers who were affected by the COVID-19 among other stakeholders.
She said that the impact of COVID has been detrimental disturbing the flows of the migrants and remittances of the different countries. Besides, migration became affected as many countries were in wars and others have been facing economic recessions, she said.
Sonia Plaza emphasized on collaboration of the civil society organizations, international bodies and relevant stakeholders to collect data of the migration as “policies can be based on data on remittances and migrant workers.”
“We have the GCM to improve the international comparability and comfortability of data on migration,” said Sonia Plaza.
Dr S. Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, also spoke as panelist at the webinar.
Raising the context of Indian migrant workers and Non- Resident Indians, Prof Rajan said that there was no specific data of the Indian migrants badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown imposed by their government to control spread of coronavirus fully stopped mobility of migrant workers in India, he noted that data was very important to manage COVID but nobody knew how many Indian migrants got stranded abroad and how many of them returned home.
Migration specialist Sara Salman, who is representing the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia said that accessible data had been the preconditions to achieving the rest 22 objectives of GCM.
She said that if there were no reliable data on migration, it would not be possible to see the migration from 360-degree vision.
Migration Governance analyst of Zambia Paddy Siyanga Knudsen, Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary Shahidul Haque and Shabari Nair, of Labour Migration Specialist for South Asia, based in the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team (DWT) in New Delhi, among others also spoke at the webinar.
We have built brains working for NIS- Babandede
57 years ago, the Federal Government of Nigeria promulgated a law to establish Immigration Department now known as Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), in this interview with a team of migration journalists, the Comptroller General of NIS, Muhammad Babandede, MFR reflects on the activities of the agency and his desire for the establishment.
NIS has come of age since August 1, 1963, how will you rate its impact on the economy?
During the colonial era many people assumed immigration was all about stopping the ‘enemies’ from entering, and on the other hand prevent citizens from exiting the nation. As the global economy progresses, immigration develops links with the economy. In last few years that I have been on board as Comptroller General of Immigration (CGI), we have been looking at the relationship between the economy and immigration. Although, we are not revenue generating agency however if you look at what we have been able to generate in last five years, we have made appreciable impacts on the economy. The NIS internally generated revenue in naira was N25 billion in 2015. After I assumed office in 2016, we generated N36 billion. In 2017, we netted N38 billion, in 2018, it was N39 billion and in 2019, we made N52 billion. While we are not operating like a business agency, we are helping to build the economy through remittance to the national pulse and partnership with Nigerian companies generating revenue for the government. Aside that, we have been able to contribute to the growth of foreign exchange earnings such that between 2015 and 2019, we made $29 million, $30 million, $29 million, $36 million and $41 million respectively. All went directly into the government pulse. A very interesting dimension is the introduction of 79 visa categories by the NIS that is encouraging income to nation.
How has the visa increment from six to 79 categories improved the immigration policy and the economy, also what informed that decision?
Governance in the 20th century encompasses review of socio economic policies. During the colonial era, aliens were regarded as people who were not citizens of Commonwealth nations in Nigeria. When I became the CGI, we changed that political concept to migrant which is the global language of migration to determine people who are coming here for whether short, temporal or permanent stay. Simply put, if you are not a Nigerian citizen here you are a migrant. In relation to visa categories, for example, for those coming to fix machines for industries, we created short visit visa for them so also business people have their visa classifications, ditto for sports, health, religion and others with work permits. While selecting these categories of people, we have a duty to pick those who will make sense to the economy. Visa on arrival can be accessed by any qualified persons instead of traveling back to their country of resident or national. This is a major economic development between the immigration service and investors.
With huge investment and energy put into digitalization at the NIS headquarters, how do you intend to cope with the challenge of maintenance?
I agree with you that there are challenges of electricity and internet connection, but we have solved the problem of power to a large extent by connecting to the solar energy and electric inverter. For interment, though, we rely on galaxy but we are sourcing for other alternatives. Concerning maintenance and sustainability, I am happy to inform you that all our machines and equipments are now being installed and managed by the NIS officers because we have built their capacities to a level that we don’t need to look for consultants to do most of our services in relation to that. The brains have been developed and they are now working for us.
Many Nigerians at different times have expressed concern over porous nature of the nation’s borders in some areas, how is immigration addressing this?
When we talk about digitalization of NIS operations, border management is also involved. Frankly, one cannot address the challenges involved through manual approach only. We digitalized because we want transparent, quick, effective actions and services. There is no way the 25,000 immigration officers in Nigeria can patrol the verse land and sea border posts without digital equipment. To address the issues, we have developed a curriculum for land and sea border by training the border patrol corps specially. We now have as many as 84 management posts. We also have established additional 15 Forward Operational (FOB) Base stations equipped with patrol commanders, domestic facilities, patrol vehicles, armory and digital vices connected to the national grid where officers can reside while manning their different border posts. Now NIS operates e-border government approval. Border strategic plans and policies developed by the NIS for 2019-2023 are being implemented. As the first contact at the border, if there are issues beyond us we are in a position to involve the navy, military and the police. The border management system is such that accommodates biometrics of migrants and capture their identities. At different times, several people have been tracked and arrested for trying to either enter or leave Nigeria illegally via digital process. This month alone, 37 of them were arrested and have been prosecuted. In all we do, we also relate and carry along the border communities too.
Last year, the American government pronounced suspension of issuance of non-immigrant visa to Nigerians over failure to comply with certain security details, how was the matter resolved?
America did not ban Nigeria from accessing their visa categories rather they only restricted certain classes of people from being employed. We have done what they required from us. For instance, the issue of lost and found passport to invalidate the use of such document anywhere had been complied with. Once you appeared at the border, all the features about your data would be revealed accurately. We have complied with the security details as requested and they were satisfied. Nigeria now uploads on Interpol base on data relating to passports matters. It is a credit to our country that we achieved such feat even though America imposed it.
Thousand of NIS officers are being promoted under your leadership, what are other things to expect?
We have done well by promoting thousands of officers, by building barracks, commands, local government offices and the FOB as transit camps for officers at the border. All these were not there before. Every worker desires promotion even some that have retired got promoted because while in service they sat for promotion exams but for one reason or the other could not be approved for next rank. We have elevated them accordingly because it was not their fault. Out 29 Assistant Comptroller Generals (ACG), 15 of them have retired but they still got their rank and we are proud to do that. I will continue to sustain promotion and build accommodation units to make officers comfortable. We have identified a company with pedigree after due diligence that has fashioned out mortgage plans for officers that will make them own their own houses as they progress in the service. This is a year of enforcement of all our visa rules. Every migrant in Nigeria must comply with the dictate of the approved visa. For example you cannot come into Nigeria with a visa to install machine in a company and you are doing the opposite, we shall follow up on you and ensure that you are returned to your country immediately. I had personally arrested Indian selling things at Kano market on this. So, all the comptrollers and senior officers including the CGI Special Monitoring Team as backup to keep commands on their toes must rise to the visa enforcement. Nigerians’ labour and jobs must be protected.
What is driving force behind your achievements so far?
- I believe leadership should not be by accident. I became the CGI in May, 2016 and by July that year, I had already formed a team and we went for a retreat in Kano. When I assumed office I was dissatisfied with the state of facilities at many of our state commands. I set a target of completing and commissioning at least two new immigration offices in a year. In 2017 I was able to complete offices in Kano and Jigawa states. In 2018, we completed that of Plateau and Abia states. In 2019, Adamawa and Zamfara states offices got commissioned. In 2020, we had commissioned NIS office in Kwara state. As I speak with you Enugu and Nasarawa states’ offices and three others are ready for unveiling. What I am saying in essence is that a leader must have a plan and must be able to task himself with a deadline to achieve because success doesn’t happen by accident.How are you looking forward to the future?
My dream is to produce a better person to succeed me as CGI. That will be my greatest achievement. If the institution did not produce someone that is better than me, then I have not succeeded. Development of NIS as an institution is paramount to me as officer in charge now. All the senior officers from the rank of comptroller and above, I have ensured that they all partake in leadership training in the area of emotion intelligence and other skills to prepare them for the future.
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