Germany says it will not grant asylum to 'climate refugees'

A South African farmer in a cracked bed of a water in November 2019 as the country sweltered under one of the worst droughts in decades.
A South African farmer in a cracked bed of a water in November 2019 as the country sweltered under one of the worst droughts in decades. Copyright AP Photo/Denis FarrellDenis Farrell
Copyright AP Photo/Denis Farrell
By Alice Tidey
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More than 25 million people are forced to move every year around the world because of the effects of climate change. Experts are divided as to whether they should be granted refugee status.


Germany said on Wednesday it would not grant asylum to people claiming to be climate refugees.

"The federal government does not plan to recognise the 'flight from climatic conditions and changes' as a reason for asylum and to make a corresponding change in the law," it said in a statement.

"People in third countries who leave their homes solely because of the negative consequences of climate change are not refugees in the sense of the Geneva Refugee Convention under current international treaty law," it added.

According to a paper from the European Parliament released last year, an average of 26.4 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes and droughts every year since 2008.

The briefing noted that the trend has been on the rise over recent decades and that the number of "climate refugees" would continue to increase.

But experts worldwide disagree on the best term to use.

Climate refugee vs climate migrant

The International Organisation for Migration, a UN agency, favours the term "environmental migrant", arguing that refugees are driven away from their home country under risk of persecution. They also flag the difficulty of pinning migration on climate change.

"Environmental migration can take many forms: sometimes forced, sometimes voluntary, often somewhere in a grey zone in between," an IOM report stated.

It added: "In the case of climate disasters such as floods and droughts, while the environmental factor is clear and the movement is clearly forced, climate change cannot be designated specifically as the cause of the disaster. Most climate scientists agree that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, but how can we know if a disaster would not have happened anyway, independently of climate change?"

It also argued that opening up the 1951 Refugee Convention to include climate change-related reasons could weaken the refugee status and lead to the exclusion of categories of people in need of protection.

But for the Environmental Justice Foundation, climate change and the migratory movements engendered from it will have a profound impact on geopolitics.

"Climate change has the potential to not only undo post-war advances promoting basic human rights and development: it is increasingly viewed as a threat to peace within and between vulnerable nations and regions," the NGO wrote in a report.

"As infrastructure and even the foundations for livelihoods diminish, the risk of conflict will surge, threatening far wider instability and embroiling nations in conflict, driving internal strife among their own and externally, as communities are forced to seek new resources to feed and nourish themselves," it went on.

The NGO called for an instrument to give "definition and status to climate refugees".

According to the European parliament paper, many developing countries have asked the bloc to grant climate migrants the status of refugees but individual member states have so far not supported the idea of creating this new category.

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