Refugees and Relief Archives

October 12, 2005

Environmental Refugees

envirorefugee.jpgWould you know an environmental refugee if you saw one?

As a recent spate of natural disasters ably demonstrates, thousands of people can be driven from their homes with no place to go other than away from the devastation, and global climate disruption promises to make evacuation for environmental reasons a more frequent occurrence. The United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security is now looking at the issue of environmental refugees, and how best to recognize and support them (PDF). One of the big questions is precisely how to define "environmental refugee."

The UNU says that, by 2010, the world will have as many as 50 million people driven from their homes by environmental crises:

...the number of people forced to move by environment-related conditions already approximates and may someday dwarf the number of officially-recognized “persons of concern,” recently calculated at 19.2 million [UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ 2004 “persons of concern” include “refugees” (people who have fled persecution in their own countries to seek safety in neighboring states, 9.2 million), civilians who have returned home but still need help, civilians uprooted by violence but who remain within their own countries, asylum seekers and stateless people.]. Indeed, Red Cross research shows more people are now displaced by environmental disasters than war.

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