In this study, mainly focusing on the phenomenon of environmental migration, the position of ecological migration terms and sub-terms in international law has been evaluated and their visibility in the international system has been examined.
According to current datas, approximetaly 80 million people are forcibly displaced worldvwide and 4.7 million people are internally displaced, it seems to increase, there is also case of new mass migration which may lead to one of the worst devastation ever seen. And its name is climate migration which is subcategory of environmental migration.
Environment has always been one of the determinative drivers of temporarly or permanent migration movements. At the beginning of 19th century environment related migration was counted as one of the factors migration. Altough there were some noteworthy attempts in 1948 and during 1970s it changed and forgotten until late 1980s. Environmental migration finally started to taken as an important issue thanks to UN Environment Programme report publications.
Another progress,which made ‘environmental migration’ global concern as well as international quesiton, issued by IFRC report in 2001. According to report, average of 211 million people were killed or affected by natural disasters seven times greater than the number of people who killed or affected by traditional military and political conflicts per year from 1991 to 2000.
Due to this changing understanding regarding migration still creates problems to recent issues.As of beginnig of 21. Century environmental disasters and predictions for future, particularly climate change related ones, are way more severe. The definition of concept is also complex and debatable.
One of the earliest definitions of climate migrants is from El-Hinnawi’s, who refers to themas “environmental refugees” in a report prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In this report, El-Hinnawi describes environmental refugees as “people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardizes their existence and/or seriously affects the quality of their life”.
It was a very broad and inclusive definition. Present refugee and migrant law based on Post Second World War, it is clearly not answering today’s world and world’s crises. The rise of environmental migration since the 2000’s has brought some questions to international area. Even though need for new definiton of migraiton types in UN Charter is clear, there is no exact definition yet. International actors, such as IOM, has invented conceptual frameworks in terms of weather or natural disasters related mass migrations.
According to International Organisation of Migration;
“Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad” (IOM, 2007:33).
The definition of IOM covers broad range of environmental migration from natural disasters to long term processes outcomes i.e sea level rise. According to IOM there are some categorized terms for environmental related migrations:
Climate Migration is a subcategory of environmental migration, it defines one type of migration where it happens due to climate. The term is also used in Cancun Agreements on climate change adaption which is one of the head stone in environmental migration and later same definition adopted by UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 2010 Conference.
Planned Relocation,it refers to planned process stem from climate change, natural disasters or environmental degradation It usually specifies relocations within national borders under the authority of State.
Human mobility is being defined as encompassing three forms of “climate change induced” movement from the Cancun Agreement,which are displacement, migration and planned relocation.
Disaster displacement, is a term that “refers to situations where people are forced to leave their homes or places of habitual residence as a result of a disaster or in order to avoid the impact of an immediate and foreseeable natural hazard. Such displacement results from the fact that affected persons are (i) exposed to (ii) a natural hazard in a situation where (iii) they are too vulnerable and lack the resilience to withstand the impacts of that hazard” (Nansen Initiative, 2015).
Climate Refugee or environmental refugee frequently used by climate activist to draw attention on current situation of climate change and environmental degradation. But this term has not legal base in context of international law. Also agencies such as IOM and UNHCR deliberately avoiding from using above mentioned terms. And the reason of that its pave the way to misleading in terms of climate related population movements. In addition to terms that express movements of people, IOM stresses another vital point by using the description of ‘trapped populations’.
Trapped populations; are those “who do not migrate, yet are situated in areas under threat, […] at risk of becoming ‘trapped’ or having to stay behind, where they will be more vulnerable to environmental shocks and impoverishment. The notion of trapped populations applies in particular to poorer households who may not have the resources to move and whose livelihoods are affected” (IOM, 2019).3
Future Of Envıronmental Mıgratıon; Is Our World Ready For Brand New Refugee Crısıs?
The consequences climate related people migration movements might be more complicated than our considerations. According to the UNDP report, there will be mass migration due to climate change in 2050 -200 million people expected to leave their homes beacuse of the outcomes of climate change.- Unfortunately extent of environmental migration is unclear.
There are no cases that puts forward exact number of climate refugees. So far, datas and statistics have not adequate regarding number of person who have been forced to move from their home due to disasters, droughts etc. Estimations on environmental migration shows that number of people will rise to ten millions or even more within next 20 years. Seemingly, Climate related movements have to be investigated further.
About the estimated numbers of climate migration some researches appoaches this issue from different angle, they claim that alarming headlines about mass cilmate migration risks creates more prejudgements towards migrants and climate related measures, policies etc. Especially, some far rightist movements in Western world denials climate change and see it as a tool for changing their country’s ethnic composition. They put forward that climate migration it is not even different from known forms of migration, and mainly underlines variety of environmental migration i.e internally, externally, temporary.
Although there are debates the way of attract attention to environmental migration, awareness of public is vital for fortcoming period, in the same way civil society works on environmental change or degradation related movements are needed. Eventually migration policies should indicate climate related migrations, to easing affects of displacement. Future of people who flee from home town temporarly or permanently remain uncertain. However one can surely say that international society has to take this reality frequently on agenda and the especially humanitarian organisatios have to take front line to act before long term worse affects happen.
Research by Ebru ÇELİK