The world’s poorest people are also the most affected by global climate-related disasters.
Refugees International amplifies their voices to help them rebuild their lives.


History and mission

The strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, Haiyan tore through the Philippines in late 2013 leaving 4 million displaced families in its wake. Photo: Refugees International.

The strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, Haiyan tore through the Philippines in late 2013 leaving 4 million displaced families in its wake. Photo: Refugees International.

Each year, millions of people are driven from their homes by floods, storms, droughts, and other weather-related disasters.

Unfortunately, these numbers are only likely to increase due to the adverse effects of global climate change including more extreme weather, growing food insecurity, and rising sea levels. Tragically, it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities that are hardest hit.

Since 2009, Refugees International has been leading the call for governments and UN agencies to take action to better protect vulnerable communities and families left homeless and destitute by climate-related disasters and ensure that they receive the help they need to rebuild their lives. 

The Climate Displacement Program was the inspiration of RI's late president, Ken Bacon. Having witnessed the terrible events that unfolded in Darfur when persistent drought fueled ethnic tensions sparking one of the worse conflicts in recent history, Ken saw the need to increase understanding of the complex relationship between extreme weather, climate change, and displacement. Through his engagement in RI’s long history of lifesaving advocacy in conflict areas, Ken understood that advocating for a more effective response to climate-related displacement would draw directly upon the organization’s expertise and demonstrated outcomes. With a founding gift from Ken and generous contributions from the Bacon family and a core group of supporters, the Climate Displacement Program became a reality shortly after Ken's death


RI conducts field visits to countries worst affected by extreme weather and climate variability, where we assess the needs of displaced populations. By meeting with displaced people on the ground and gathering first-hand accounts, RI is uniquely situated to identify their most urgent needs and provide reliable recommendations to governments, aid agencies, and the United Nations on best to get them back on their feet. 

Recognizing that there are opportunities to avoid or minimize disaster-related displacement, RI also urges governments and aid agencies to act before disasters strike. Promoting funding for programs to reduce disaster risk and build the resilience of communities to withstand and recover in their aftermath, is our top priority. 

At the global level, RI has also been actively engaged in international efforts to fill gaps in the institutional and legal frameworks for addressing those uprooted by climate change who do not fall within the protection of the 1951 Refugee Convention.  


  • RI’s work with its partners in the Nansen Initiative Consultative Committee culminated in 115 governments endorsing the “Protection Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change,” the most comprehensive document adopted to date to protect those uprooted by severe weather, sea level rise, and other climate change effects. RI’s advocacy was instrumental in convincing the U.S. government to support the Nansen Initiative, which seeks protections for people who flee their countries as a result of climate-related disasters and are not protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention. 

  • In June 2016, RI traveled to Zimbabwe to assess the response to a worsening drought that had left four million Zimbabweans without sufficient food. In its report, RI highlighted the drought’s severe impacts on children, who were increasingly dropping out of school, as well as women and those living with HIV/AIDs. Following sustained advocacy by RI, the U.S. announced an additional $54.5 million in aid for the response, increased funding so that AIDS survivors had food to take with their medication, and deployed additional staff to respond to the crisis. 

  • The international climate change agreement adopted in Paris in December established a task force to address climate displacement, the result of sustained advocacy by RI and its partners.

  • RI’s defense on behalf of thousands of landless Filipinos displaced by Typhoon Haiyan who were being prohibited from returning to their homes led both the United Nations and Philippine government to reconsider the “no return” policy and adopt more equitable solutions for the displaced.