Refugees International Launches Task Force on Climate Change and Migration

Expert Group Includes Former Senior U.S. Government Officials, Climate and Migration Specialists, and Leaders of Major International NGOs

WASHINGTON—Refugees International announced today the launch of an expert task force on climate change and migration in response to an Executive Order (EO) issued by President Biden on February 4. 

The executive order, which focused in large measure on the U.S. refugee admissions program, also directs the National Security Advisor to report to the president by August 3 on “Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” including options for the protection and resettlement of people at risk of displacement due to climate change.

“The order presents a historic opportunity to advance U.S. policy on these critical issues,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and co-chair of the task force. “While climate change is increasingly recognized as a driver of forced migration around the world, governments, international organizations, and civil society have yet to develop comprehensive measures that effectively target at-risk communities that may want to stay and adapt, ensure that those on the move do so safely and with dignity, and enable those that need to cross borders to obtain adequate protection.”

The Task Force will seek to develop recommendations that encourage the Biden administration to seize this opportunity and articulate a responsible plan of action designed to meet these challenges. 

“It’s time for the United States to exercise leadership on an issue that communities around the world are already grappling with,” said Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University and co-chair of the task force. “In order to make the administration’s report as impactful as possible, it will need to include in-depth guidance on complex issues, including on terminology and type and extent of protection. We intend to harness the expertise of this Task Force to support the Biden administration’s endeavor to find solutions to climate-related displacement.”   

Task force members include:

Nisha Agarwal
Deputy Executive Director, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

T. Alexander Aleinikoff
Director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School
Former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees
Former General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Department of Justice

J. Brian Atwood
Visiting Scholar Watson Institute, Brown University
Former Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Former Under Secretary of State

Reuben Brigety
Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of the South
Former U.S. Representative to the African Union 
Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa

Elizabeth Ferris
Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University
Expert Advisory Group Member, United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement

Lauren Herzer Risi
Director, Environmental Change and Security Program, Wilson Center

Mark Hetfield
President and CEO, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn
President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Kayly Ober
Senior Advocate and Program Manager, Climate Displacement Program, Refugees International

Maria Otero
Former Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights
Former Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Former President and CEO, ACCION International

Anne C. Richard
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Former Director, Secretary of State’s Office of Resources, Plans and Policy

Richard Santos
President and CEO, Church World Service

Alex de Sherbinin 
Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director for Science Applications, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), The Earth Institute, Columbia University  

Eric P. Schwartz
President, Refugees International
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Maureen White
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University
Former Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues, Office of the Special Representation to Afghanistan and Pakistan



Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance, human rights, and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We do not accept any government or UN funding, ensuring the independence and credibility of our work.

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Since 2009, Refugees International’s Climate Displacement Program has advocated for improved assistance, protection, and solutions for vulnerable communities and individuals uprooted in the context of extreme weather and climate change. Refugees International 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. 

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For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Refugees International Director of Communications Sarah Sheffer at or +1 202 540 7029.

Photo Caption: People in Satkhira, Bangladesh seen on a dried river bed on November 12, 2015. Photo Credit: Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcro / Barcroft Media via Getty Images.