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Each year, tens of millions of people across the globe are driven from their homes by floods, storms, droughts, and other weather-related disasters. And as the adverse effects of global climate change induce more extreme weather, growing food insecurity, and rising sea levels—that number is expected to rise. Tragically, it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities that are hardest hit.

While often referred to as “climate refugees,” the fact is that those who lose their homes in disasters or who are forced to relocate because of climate change are not recognized as refugees. This is because the 1951 Refugees Convention does not include those fleeing the effects of climate change, but only those fleeing war and persecution. This leaves an enormous gap in international law which Refugees International is leading efforts to address.


Climate Displacement Program Manager Alice Thomas interviews families displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Climate Displacement Program Manager Alice Thomas interviews families displaced by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

In 2009, RI launched the Climate Displacement Program to advocate for improved assistance, protection, and solutions for vulnerable communities and individuals uprooted in the context of extreme weather and climate change. Informed by field-based missions to countries experiencing climate-related humanitarian crises, RI was among the first organizations to boldly call on national governments, UN agencies, donors, and others to address the increasing impacts of climate change on displacement, migration, conflict, and human insecurity.

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.

Our Approach

The Climate Displacement Program builds upon RI’s long history of lifesaving advocacy on behalf of refugees and displaced people. We draw upon the organization’s expertise and proven track-record of catalyzing action to better respond to displacement crises. Central to our approach is ensuring that responses to climate-related displacement and migration are informed by our fact-finding missions to the field, inclusive of affected communities, and embrace a human-rights-based approach.

Since launching the Climate Displacement Program, RI has conducted over a dozen missions to countries experiencing climate-related disasters, displacement, and humanitarian crises.

In addition, RI has played a leading role in the development of a variety of initiatives aimed at promoting action to avert, minimize, and address climate-related displacement.

“The rains failed year after year. We sold our animals and now we have nothing. We even sold our farmland to pay for transport to Baidoa.” — IDP from Somalia
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In the Field

Watch Climate Displacement Program Manager Alice Thomas featured in the FRONTLINE PBS documentary “Blackout in Puerto Rico,” for an in-depth look at why Puerto Rico was left struggling to survive after Hurricane Maria.

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