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The term ‘refugee’ both all-encompassing and inclusive. Since the right to live in a safe environment is guaranteed by the universal declaration of human rights, it is valid for individuals whose lives are in danger to seek protection.

Seeking refuge is equivalent to seeking  protection fromsituationsthat threaten human life. To put it another way, not everyone who seeks safety will be granted the refugee status due to statute governing the status of refugees. The 1951 Convention on Refugees reiterated the requirement that displaced indivduals must have a well-founded fear of persecution1 in order to qualify for refugee status. Fear is spread about violence, war, or a national ideology, which restricts the scope of refugee status. 

"Applicant for refugee status had to have a 'well-founded fear' of persecution if returned to his or her own country meant that there had to be demonstrated a reasonable likelihood that he or she would be so persecuted.“ 

The criterion of a well-founded fear will certainly limit people seeking for refuge but it is not necessary to be afraid of institutions or the government in order to qualify for  protection as a refugee. Being granted a refugee status goes beyond obtaining a title as it gives displaced persons the ability to apply for protection under international law. The aforementioned criterion above is also however excludes displaced persons who  have ‘well-founded fear’ of natural disasters nor other threats such as risingrising sea levels that would harm their living environment, as well as other climate-induced disasters. Therefore, due to established legislation, the refugee status ought to be inclusive rather become exclusive.

Forced migration and displacement occur when disaster/conflict strikes. Those searching for safety and a haven of refuge in places that are more stable.  People fleeing to save themselves and seeking refuge to be in a more stable place. In the past, migration was a form of adaptation to help people find a better place to live and settle in areas that are adequate for living conditions.  Examples of such places include semi-arid regions to avoid harsh weather, highland areas to protect oneself from predators, and areas near bodies of water for agriculture. Therefore it is clear to see how such natural conditions have caused people to migrate in search  for a better and more suitable place to reside, however at the moment it is difficult to locate a new home where there are countries and institutions already in establishment, hence limiting cross-border migration.

Moving forward in the light of the fact that climate change has become a multidimensional issue and a global concern. In fact, in 2021, 59.1 million people were displaced due to climate-induced disasters, and by 2050, it is expected that there would be 1.2 billion climate refugees worldwide2.   3Typhoons, floods, and wildfires have destroyed villages and killed individuals, taking their possessions and loved ones with them. The casualty might be temporary as resettlement could be rebuilt, however as redevelopment takes time, the status of  ‘disaster victim’ might change. The issue is increasingly pressing since the loss of territories such like Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and other small Pacific islands might result from sea level rise.  The question becomes what will mostly likely happen to those experiencing the likelihood of losing their home rises and there is nowhere to flee. Statelessness caused by climate change might emerge as a new global issue if the definition of a refugee is not broadened. 

Regarding this matter, the international community has raised its commitment to battling climate change and averting future loss by  signing the Paris Agreement and submitting their Nationally Determined Contributions. None of those initiatives, however, paid attention to communities that have already been displaced due to climate change or would be by the year 2050.  The planetary crisis, which UNEPP stated, is an ongoing problem that leads to displacement, thus it is vital to concentrate on fixing this urgent issue. 

Recognising the climate refugee as a legal term that provides international acknowledgement and protection will be a preventive step in mitigating the global displacement crisis due to climate change. Prevention is preferable to problem-solving. To grant asylum for individuals who have lost their lands and homes as a result of climate change and its multifaceted impacts, the UNHCR and UNEP must establish specific standards. 

Contributor: Nicole Ang 

A unique cooperation between cities, officials, civil society organizations, and academics towards resilient and inclusive cities.

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Hizbullah Arief

Pascaline Gaborit