Human tide: the real migration crisis - Christian Aid report

Report
from Christian Aid
Published on 14 May 2007
Introduction

A world struggling to cope with the largest enforced movement of people in its history. Tens of millions displaced, living in parlous conditions - their very futures threatened by the enormity of the problem.

That was the dire situation at the end of the Second World War, and Christian Aid - known at the time as Christian Reconstruction in Europe - was founded to help address it. Then, 50 years ago, came the first Christian Aid Week - a mass mobilisation of supporters to raise funds for the continuing refugee crisis in Europe and beyond.

The roots of the organisation run deep into the tragedy of forced migration. So it is with some authority that we now issue a stark warning about accelerating rates of displacement in the 21st century.

As the effects of climate change join and exacerbate the conflicts, natural disasters and development projects that drive displacement, we fear that an emerging migration crisis will spiral out of control. Unless urgent action is taken, it threatens to dwarf even that faced by the war-ravaged world all those decades ago.

Christian Aid predicts that, on current trends, a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050. We believe forced migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries. The time for action is now.

The issue of migration is currently riding high on the domestic political agenda. Media attention here is focused on economic migrants and those seeking political asylum in Britain and Ireland, with debate centering on whether these people bringbene?ts or dangers. This report is not about those issues.

For the real crisis is emerging a long way away, and largely unnoticed. It really is not about us. Principally, it involves some 155 million men, women and children who have had no choice but to ? ee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in their own countries. They are, in the ?at jargon of international classi?cation,"internally displaced persons", or "IDPs".

Millions are escaping war and ethnic persecution, and millions more have literally had their homes swept away by the increasing number of natural disasters. A staggering number of people are being pushed aside to make way for dams, roads and other large-scale development projects. Most are in the world's poorest countries, often among their poorest people. Their already harsh lives are made worse by being forced to move, sometimes repeatedly.

Unlike the relatively small numbers of dictionary-de? nition "refugees", who have struggled across a border to escape persecution, they are also largely voiceless. They have no status or protection under international law and no single international agency is responsible for their welfare. They are nobody's problem, apart from their own governments'. And those governments are often responsible for these people's plight in the ?rst place.

The number of IDPs is expected to rise dramatically in the coming decades. And those already displaced look likely to be joined by at least equal numbers of people forced from their homes because of climate change.

The impact of climate change is the great, and frightening, unknown in this equation. Existing estimates of its potential to displace people are more than a decade old and are widely disputed. Only now is serious academic attention being devoted to calculating the scale of this new human tide.

Given the amount of work and column inches devoted in recent years to the economic implications of global warming, including the landmark Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, commissioned by the UK government, this may seem inconceivable - even shameful. But it is the case. Stern, for example, merely quotes the old ? gures. Cynics may conclude that this lack of focus, while popular chatter centres on threats to our foreign holidays and big cars, is because the problem is perceived as being a long way away. It really is not about us.

For the people of the developing world, however, mass migration forced by climate change could prove to be a further crushing blow.

In our report, The Climate of Poverty, published a year ago, Christian Aid highlighted how the process of climate change was already affecting poor populations. It also predicted how the threat of increasing floods, disease and famine sparked by climate change could nullify efforts to secure meaningful and sustainable development in poor countries. At worst, the report said, these ravages could send the real progress that has already been achieved "spinning into reverse".

To add many more millions of uprooted people to this mix makes an already apocalyptic picture potentially even more devastating.

The danger is that this new forced migration will fuel existing con? icts and generate new ones in the areas of the world - the poorest - where resources are most scarce.

Movement on this scale has the potential to de-stabilise whole regions where increasingly desperate populations compete for dwindling food and water. While mired in political complexity, the genesis of the appalling con? ict in Darfur has been in part attributed to this very downward spiral. Let Darfur stand as the starkest of warnings about what the future could bring.

This scenario has not escaped the attention of military planners. In December 2006 Sir Jock Stirrup, as the Chief of the Defence Staff and Britain's most senior seviceman, used his annual lecture at the Royal United Services Institute to highlight these concerns.

"Climate change and growing competition for scarce resources are together likely to increase the incidence of humanitarian crises. The spread of desert regions, a scarcity of water, coastal erosion, declining arable land, damage to infrastructure from extreme weather: all this could undermine security," he said.

The latest Global Strategic Trends Programme report from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) forecasts the state of the world over the next 30 years. Released earlier this year by the MoD's Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre military thinktank, the report outlines past examples of rapid climate change and speaks in no-nonsense terms about the possible extreme consequences of another one.

"The Earth's population has grown exponentially in the last century and any future event of this type would have more dramatic human consequences, resulting in societal collapse, mega-migration, intensifying competition for much-diminishedresources and widespread con?ict."

The case studies in this report spell out in human detail how major internal migration crises, caused by con?ict, have already developed in Sudan, in Uganda and in Sri Lanka. The main studies that follow seek to highlight equally devastating situations that are still developing with far less attention from the world's media or the wider international community. They illustrate how, over time, internal displacements with their roots in con?ict can mutate into disputes over land and other economic resources - or hard cash. In all cases, very few people get to go home.

Colombia is second only to Sudan for its number of IDPs, living in makeshift camps or in crowded slums on the fringes of the capital, Bogotá. Originally forced to move by guerrillas and militias locked in a decades-long civil war, this largely rural population is now seeing its land grabbed to make way for lucrative plantations. Increasingly, this is to produce palm oil - a substance in high demand and found in many products in the rich world's shopping baskets.

In Burma, ethnic minority groups, including the Karen, have also been subject to decades of violence, displacement and persecution. Their government is now using the space created by their displacment to plan dams and other large-scale developments, including palm oil plantations, leading to further, vicious forced displacement.

These are just extreme examples of the "development displacement" that experts say accounts for up to 105 million displaced people at any given time. Once again, the onset of climate change is set to further swell these numbers. As the pressure to cut CO2 emissions in rich countries grows, a solution is being sought by substituting biofuels for oil - particularly by the US government - as a way to keep cars and trucks running. The problem is that this potential bonanza for biofuel producers will require vast tracts of land for plantations, leading to the forced ejection of yet more peasant farmers.

In Mali, the threat from climate change is more immediate. The country lies in the Sahel belt of semi-arid land that straddles sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the areas of the world most vulnerable to global warming. Already farmers here are now ?nding it impossible to live off the land in the way they have done for centuries. Erratic and declining levels of rainfall mean dramatically declining crop yields - and people have to move in order to earn the money to feed their families. Increasing numbers are trying to get to Europe for this purpose.

And always it should be remembered that people in poor countries such as Mali have contributed least to global warming and to the climate change that now threatens their existence.

Christian Aid Week is by no means the only event marking a big anniversary in 2007. In what is turning into a year of anniversaries, it also marks the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War and the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel. Later, there is the 60th anniversary of Indian independence. And we have just, of course, marked the 200th anniversary of the bill to end the British slave trade. All these big moments tell gruelling tales of enforced mass migrations of poor people.

It would be fitting, therefore, if 2007 could in future be known as the year in which the world took serious steps to avoid the worst impacts of future forced migration.

So what can be done? In the aftermath of the Second World War, the international community responded with vision and imagination to tackle what must have seemed like an intractable problem. That same kind of vision is needed now to prevent the latest migration crisis from spiralling out of control.

Christian Aid does not pretend to have all the answers, but the solution must start with an overhaul of the current UN system for dealing, or not dealing, with internally displacedpeople. Together with our partner organisations, we work closely with UN agencies in response to humanitarian shocks implementing their programmes to get aid through to those who need it most. So we know the challenges faced. But these millions of people cannot be left without a voice.

The growing problem of displacement resulting from largescale development programmes must also be addressed. At present there is not even agreement about whether people forced from their homes to make way for dams or roads are covered by existing codes of conduct. Rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have had their own guidelines on the impact of their funding of development projects for the past ten years. But it is simply not known whether they are effective or not.

To address the looming crisis of climate change, the polluter must pay. Governments of rich states, such as the UK, must accept their countries' responsibility for the growing harm and suffering that climate change will bring to developing countries and pay to alleviate it. A US$100 billion-a-year fund is needed to help poor people adapt to changing weather patterns so that they can stay in their own homes.

The alternative, as this report seeks to highlight, is a desperate situation that could destabilise whole regions plunging them further into poverty and con? ict. We hope that on its next big anniversary Christian Aid will be able to celebrate its part in a positive effort to overcome these problems, not to commemorate another forced migration disaster.