EPRS Admin By / October 19, 2021

Internal displacement of people due to natural disasters

Internal displacement of people due to natural disasters

Internal displacement of people due to natural disasters

Climate change can generate refugees in a number of ways. While the link between climate disasters and climate change is not necessarily easy to establish, rising temperatures are known to increase the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters.
While most climate displacement in the past has tended to happen internally, with people able to return soon after the disaster, increasingly the impacts of climate change are making certain areas uninhabitable and returning difficult. This downside of global warming is pushing affected populations to cross borders and seek shelter and help elsewhere. Although the numbers of people displaced externally as a result of climate disasters is not easy to quantify, studies show that external migration linked to climate disasters will most probably increase in the coming years. This will place additional pressure on the EU’s asylum agency and migration policies already strained by the migratory crisis that has been ongoing in Europe, notably since 2015.
Whether internal or external, forced displacement of populations can also lead to conflict and tension with other communities already living in the destination regions. As the IPCC explained in the above-mentioned 2019 special report, population displacement can create competition – for food and clean water access, but also on labour markets – while also exacerbating existing ethnic tensions, or gender violence. Furthermore, climate migration often combines with conflict-related displacement, and worsens the situation in already sensitive regions touched by war and violence. For instance, in 2020 floods displaced more people in Yemen than conflict and violence, aggravating what was already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Europe’s migration strategy is directly affected by these new causes of displacement.
Thus, whereas according to the IDMC’s recent Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID), in 2020 Afghanistan was the worst affected state in terms of natural hazard displacements, with 1 117 000 people displaced because of climate disaster, according to Eurostat, Afghans are also the second most numerous nationality seeking asylum in the EU. Indeed, referring again to the GRID, when it comes to overall displacement data, climate disasters trigger over three times more displacements than conflict and violence while also triggering local conflicts or worsening ongoing ones. In any case, the forcibly displaced populations’ vulnerable position worsened by violence and insecurity. According to the GRID, in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, for instance, ‘disasters often overlap with conflict’. For example, drought in Somalia drove people to flee from rural to urban areas where they are now at greater risk of eviction and attacks by armed groups. When people forcibly displaced because of the climate also encounter stigmatisation and violence in the region they flee to, their position can fall within the scope of the 1951 Refugee Convention, enabling them to be granted legal status and protection.


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