“Environmental refugees” unacceptable label

Thousands of people have to flee their homes in the Pacific every year due to natural disasters. It is important to have comprehensive policies and legislation in place that ensures the rights of internally displaced persons are respected at all times, stated the organisers of a conference and workshop on human rights and disaster-induced displacement.

As a follow-up a conference on Internal Displacement in Natural Disasters which was held on 3 May. A Pacific-wide workshop on protection for internally displaced persons was organized in Suva, Fiji, from 4-6 May, where these issues were discussed. Participants included representatives from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

However Pacific Islanders who may have to move to other nations because of rising sea levels don’t like being described as ‘environmental refugees’.  Jane McAdam, from Australia’s University of New South Wales, says the term environmental refugee does not exist in international law and is not an accurate description of the challenges facing Pacific Islanders.

People from countries such as Tuvalu and Kirbati do not want to be seen as refugees she said. “[The label] would make us feel like helpless victims.” Pacific Islanders I spoke to said we also don’t want to be seen as a burden on the international community. “Instead we would like to have the opportunity to migrate with dignity and to be skilled people who can be moved to other countries and perhaps over time build up pockets of community abroad.”


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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