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Protecting Climate Migrants: Legal Challenges and Human Rights

The legal framework for recognising climate migrants at international level certainly lacks  a distinctive category. Broader terms like environmental migrant or displaced persons, including those fleeing natural disaster and environmental degradation,  are not inclusive of climate migrant. As a result, legal protection as refugees may not be applicable to them.


There has been a growing concern for the recognition of climate migrants in order to address unique challenges faced by them. Many scholars are in favour of  expanding the definition of refugee under international law to include those displaced by climate change, whilst others propose altering the legal framework to address their needs.


Climate migrants are faced with significant challenges as a result of large-scale, forced displacement, including threats to safety and security, homelessness, exclusion in host countries and lack of access to basic needs. These challenges require a comprehensive approach that prioritises the needs of climate migrants.


Different countries have different approaches to address climate migrations, and the international community has begun to propose changes to law and  policy to support climate migrants. However, International cooperation is essential to address the cross-border nature of climate migration and to ensure protection across borders.


In order to ensure human rights protections for climate refugees, a multi-faceted approach that spans legal, policy, and humanitarian efforts is essential. This includes

advocacy for the inclusion of climate refugees within existing legal frameworks governing refugees, uphold the principle of non-refoulement to ensure that climate refugees have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and  recognise extremely vulnerable groups, such as women, children, the elderly, and  people with disabilities.


The right for climate migrants to have an adequate standard of living, and develop policies and programs to provide for the basic needs of climate refugees and support their integration into host communities. Also ensuring that climate migrants are not arbitrarily detained or restricted in their movement. Facilitating access to safe and legal pathways for migration is crucial.


Enhance the capabilities of governments & civil society  to respond effectively to the needs of climate refugees. Fostering international cooperation and burden-sharing to address the global dimensions of climate migration. Strengthen partnerships between countries of origin, transit, and destination to ensure the protection and assistance of climate refugees throughout their journey.


The legal liaison of climate migration is broad and requires careful consideration. The role of international & national legal frameworks addresses the inconsistency in international and national laws or policies to address climate displacement, which has led to  delayed protection and support for affected individuals and communities.

Additionally, persecution often contributes to the refugee  crisis, and one of the major concerns is  the void in  existing laws that does not consider those who are displaced only due to climate change.  Expanding the definition of refugee to establish a separate legal category for climate migrants is therefore essential.


Furthermore, another major concern is the issue of statelessness. Climate migrants will find themselves without a recognized nationality if their home countries become uninhabitable or disappear entirely due to catastrophes like rising sea levels and desertification. This can leave them in legal limbo, without access to the basic rights or protections afforded to citizens.

Addressing the legal plight of climate migrants demands a unified international effort and innovative legal frameworks to ensure their rights are protected. As environmental challenges escalate, it is imperative that we advance legal recognition and support for those displaced by climate change, preventing any lapse into statelessness or rights deprivation.

Image: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed


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