Earlier this year, many heralded New Zealand’s grant of asylum to a family from the low-lying Pacific island nation of Tuvalu as the first legal recognition of “climate refugees.” This was not the case. While the applicants claimed that they would be victim to the impacts of climate change if returned to their country, the tribunal explicitly refrained from ruling on this matter and granted the family's appeal on unrelated humanitarian grounds.
On September 21, thousands of people will come together in New York City to demand action on global climate change. The People’s Climate March, which comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23, will not only be the largest climate march in history, but also the most diverse.
“This policy calls for UNHCR to pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible. Compliance with this policy is mandatory.” Those words are taken from a policy statement prepared by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Approved by High Commissioner António Guterres on July 22, 2014, the document has curiously not been placed in the public domain, nor have UNHCR’s key partners – donor states, other UN agencies, and NGOs – been informed of its existence. But Refugees International has gained access to a leaked copy.
In Australia, the navy is intercepting boats in international waters and incarcerating asylum seekers in floating prisons. In Kenya, the government is deporting refugees to Somalia, despite the continued armed conflict and the increasingly serious drought in that country. Sudan has recently returned a group of refugees to Eritrea, one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. And the United States is refusing to admit many Mexican children who arrive at its border, despite mounting evidence that they are escaping from life-threatening and gang-related violence.
More than 90,000 unaccompanied children are expected to arrive at the U.S. border this year. More than 20,000 of them will be of Mexican origin, but because they are being summarily turned around at the border little is known about their decision to undertake the journey alone, or the circumstances under which they traveled.
My colleague Garrett Bradford and I are currently in Mexico, where we are meeting with people displaced by organized crime, gangs, and other armed actors throughout the country, including in Tijuana, Mexico City, Veracruz, and Sinaloa. No one knows how many people have been forced to leave their homes in Mexico due to extortion, kidnapping, forced disappearances, or murders, but it is widely reported to be more than 100,000 people.
Two weeks ago, the High Court of New Zealand rejected a Kiribati man’s request for asylum as a “climate change refugee.” Ione Teitiota argued that he should be entitled to protection as a refugee because rising sea levels and environmental hazards caused by climate change were endangering his life on Kiribati, a low-lying island nation in the South Pacific.
There is always a convenient excuse. In Haiti, we don't have the time. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we don't have the funding. In the Syrian refugee response, we don't have the experts. Somehow, there is always a pat answer to why we, the humanitarian community, fail to protect women and girls in emergency after emergency.