Climate Refugees: resettlement programmes, something for the EU?

The Australian and New Zealand authorities have been encourage by over 100 NGO’s to cater for the expected climate refugees from the pacific islands ahead of a Pacific Islands Leadership Forum this week, according ABC News. The EU should consider to follow suit.


Resettlement programme in New Zealand a first step in the right direction

Programmes such as the ‘Pacific Access Category‘ of the Government of New Zealand, which is an immigration/resettlement scheme for the population of pacific islands threatened by rising sea level, offers opportunities for ‘would be’ environmentally forced migrants. Each year a fixed number of people form each of the islands (Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga) are granted work and residents permit to permanently resettle at New Zealand. The President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, said earlier this year that: “I’ve applauded New Zealand on the Pacific Access Category scheme. This is wonderful, it’s human, it’s highly human, and we’re hoping that other countries will follow suit”.

The only problem with this scheme is that it would take approximately 140 years for all the population of Tuvalu to move to New Zealand, if the yearly quota of 75 persons is to be upheld and New Zealand remains the only country to welcome these climate refugees. What they need is not necessarily ‘protection’ in the traditional sense, but opportunities to start a new life with dignity. These islands may already be submerged within 2050 if some of the predictions of the IPCC come through.

Best practice for the EU?

The programme is interesting, as it can serve as ‘best practice’ for adaptation policies to climate change. The EU should definitively look closely at their future immigration policies, and see whether they can systematically accommodate those hardest hit by climate change. Such policies must however be carefully tailored, together with the country in question in order to avoid brain-drain and further negative consequences. Integration policies, information and political support in the receiving the state is also of huge importance. For the Europe, facing a huge demographic decline in the next decades, it can serve as one of several solutions to face that challenge and at the same time show solidarity with those forced to move as a result of climate change.

As the president of Kiribati puts it:

“We want to begin that now, and do it over the next twenty, thirty or forty years, rather than merely, in fifty to sixty years time, simply come looking for somewhere to settle our one hundred thousand people because they can no longer live in Kiribati, because they will either be dead or drown. We begin the process now, it’s a win-win for all and very painless, but I think if we come as refugees, in fifty to sixty years time, I think they would become a football to be kicked around.”


Read more:
– About sea level rise at the web site of Greenpeace and the IPCC Working Group on Impacts, Adaptation and vulnerability
–  News article: ‘Paradise lost: climate change forces South Sea islanders to seek sanctuary abroad‘ 
– Visit my overview page on ‘climate refugees’ 

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