Climate Migrants/Refugees: An Open Wound
In the executive summary of the 2009 Care publication In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement I read the following statement: “Policy decisions made today will determine whether migration becomes a matter of choice amongst a range of adaptation options, or merely a matter of survival due to a collective failure by the international community to provide better alternatives”. Climate migrants or refugees – the vocabulary seems still undecided and constitutes a juridical debate which should, in my opinion, take into account the intimate connection between climate change and the violent conflicts it involves, thus making the expression “refugees” adequate – are already on the move today and some estimate their number may grow to 200 million by 2050. They represent an enormous challenge to the international community and (will) call upon the resources of many humanitarian organizations, amongst which the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
The JRS mission statement with its threefold focus – to accompany, to serve, to advocate – may provide us with some insight as to how to address the realities of climate migrants/refugees. These three verbs do not only indicate that we have a responsibility to care for refugees, to assist them in their own experiences and to make their voices heard. They also point out that the encounter with refugees and their experiences changes all of us, that refugees and migrants in their pain reveal the need to change our world if they are to live with dignity, that their experiences as if through a broken prism shed light on steps that we all can and have to take to build a more dignified and sustainable world. This is also the case with people who are on the move because of climate change and environmental deterioration: they show us what an inhospitable environment means for people and how it involves them in conflicts over meager resources, they remind us of the conditions to be put in place to make this earth a home to all of us: we have to mitigate not only our greenhouse gas emissions but also our exorbitant and selfish consumerist ways of life as well as our tendency to create safe havens for “our” people as over against the “others”; we have to share burdens in working out adaptation resilience, particularly for those who suffer most. Environmental refugees or migrants, therefore, are not merely a barometer indicating the facts and realities of climate change, they also point towards greater solidarity and sustainable patterns of life and show us that, one day, each one of us may become one such refugee for forgetting our embeddedness in nature and the fact that we depend upon one another for dignified life. By being present with the refugees, by listening to their experiences, by learning to speak their voice, JRS people transmit an experience of conversion that may change the world. Climate migrants/refugees lead us into a similar experience of conversion that will help us to address climate change in a very real and effective way. In the wound, there is blood of life.