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With the news of Cyclone Pam – a recent Category 5 hurricane – and the devastation the disaster has caused the South Pacific, comes a greater urgency for the creation of solid legal frameworks to support climate refugees and migrants.

Climate migrants are not only a moral but also a heavily contentious political and socioeconomic question that has no definitive answer as of yet. Back in 2011, the first ‘climate refugee’ hit the headlines as his High Court-escalated appeal for citizenship on the grounds of impending loss of home was rejected by New Zealand; the court, although knowing that his home will likely be flooded by rising sea levels in the next 50 years, ordered him back home to the island nation of Kiribati.

Climate refugees – even terminology is a contentious issue, as stated in a recent Guardian op-ed – are those who have lost their homes due to sudden or long-term changes to their local environments that create an unsustainable location for the citizen’s home. This, coupled with the long-predicted news that many Pacific island nations such as Kiribati and Funafuti (Tuvalu) will be lost to the sea in the next 50 years, at conservative estimation, legal frameworks in neighbouring countries must become a national priority soon as climate refugees applying for visas and citizenships around the world will, without a shadow of a doubt, become a leading human rights issue within the next 5-10 years as more islanders seek help and support from neighbouring states.

The International Organisation for Migration – an international organisation based in Geneva, Switzerland – was set up in a post-WWII world in order to help those displaced during the War. Working closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the IOM works to aid and protect the rights of migrants and refugees and, as the climate refugee question escalates, the organisation has called for policymakers to take a proactive approach to building the frameworks necessary to cope with the rising issue.

The UN Refugee Agency, part of the UN Human Rights Council, offers a similarly sombre outlook for climate change and how it will come to affect thousands in low-lying island states – particularly in the Pacific region – over coming years.

Climate refugees and their rights, of lack thereof, will become the leading humans rights issue of the next 50 years and governments must be urged to provide solid legal frameworks in collaboration with leading policymakers to ensure the protection of the vulnerable and often impoverished citizens of the low-lying island states and other countries, such as Bangladesh, get the legal protective measures they so deserve.

To find out more about climate refugees, please visit the following:

International Organisation for Migration | UN Human Rights Council | National Geographic | Foreign Policy

To donate to Cyclone Pam relief funds, visit the following:

Red Cross | Oxfam | Medicin Sans Frontiers

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