Migration and climate change intertwined, says UN-linked migration body

December 19, 2009 1:32 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, Dec. 19 — As tributes were paid Friday to international migrants worldwide at the same time that the climate change conference in Denmark was ending, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) injected relevance to the twin issues by calling for “greater efforts beyond Copenhagen to tackle the complex issue of environmental and climate-induced migration.”

”…the reality is that climate change and environmental degradation are already triggering migration or displacement all over the planet,” the intergovernmental IOM said in a statement marking International Migrants Day.

“In particular, it is the world’s poorest countries that are bearing the brunt,” IOM said out of its Geneva headquarters. The IOM-Manila released the statement of IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing to the Philippines News Agency.

“No one really knows just how many people are already migrating voluntarily or are forced to do so because of climate change or environmental degradation. What we now know is much of this migration is largely internal or cross-border and that it is a growing trend,” Swing said.

World leaders, including Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Danish capital and were to consider signing up to a global deal on climate change that IOM said “may or not acknowledge its impact on migration and displacement.”

The Philippines is one of the developing countries — led by China — calling for greater financial responsibility on the part of developed nations for quantum reductions in carbon and other industrial emissions and is at the same time one of the world’s biggest sources of labor migration.

Swing said that "rowing migration pressures resulting from the effects of climate change add to the urgency of tacking existing challenges of migration management."

He added that “ensuring effective protection of the human rights of all migrants, including environmental migrants, and provision of adequate assistance to vulnerable people on the move will continue to be one of the key priorities of IOM.”

”Working together with our partner agencies in the Global Migration Group and beyond, we will also continue to work on reducing forced migration as much as possible, to ensure that when migration happens, it is by choice,” Swing added.

A recently published IOM report states that most migration already occurring as a result of environmental factors is internal. IOM has used the term “environmental refugees” in such a situation.

According to IOM, several Asian countries are struggling to cope with the mass of rural-urban migration as recurrent floods destroy agricultural livelihoods and supplies and force people to move to over-stretched urban areas, with dramatic consequences for infrastructure, public services and health.

On a more positive note mentioning the Philippines, Swing cited an IOM study which showed that Filipino migrant workers (known as OFWs) are the among the first to offer financial assistance when a natural disaster occurs in the Philippines.

Swing was apparently referring to why such migrant OFWS need more assistance and protection than ever before. OFW remittances have continued to sustain the Philippine economy and saved the country from the world financial crisis this year, a feat acknowledged by President Arroyo herself.

“We all know that there is no single solution to the challenges of climate change. We need to use all the tools at our disposal, and migration is one of them. It has been recognized that migration can and does contribute to development in countries of origin and destination,” Swing stated.

”Strengthening the link between migration and development and taking advantage of the benefits temporary and circular migration can bring to vulnerable communities needs to be part of the adaptation plans,” he stated.

"The potential scale of future movements will require international support for those countries most affected by internal and immediate cross-border environmental migration as less and least-developed countries will not have the capacity or resources to manage or respond to such flows.

“Financial support to address the migration-related consequences of environmental degradation and climate change must not be to the detriment of development assistance which has already been hit by the economic crisis. Support has to be additional if developing countries are to build their resilience to the humanitarian impact,” Swing adds.

“Climate change, demographic trends and globalization all point to more migration in the future. This means that the well-being of even more people and communities will be subject to our ability to manage migration in a way that increases the benefits and opportunities and reduces suffering,” he concluded. (PNA)



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