Marshall Islands + 1 more

Marshallese perspectives on migration in the context of climate change

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Introduction

Marshall Islands is a nation of widely dispersed, low-lying coral atolls and islands, with approximately 70 mi2 of land area scattered across 750,000 mi2 of ocean (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 2015). Average elevation for the Marshall Islands is approximately 2 m. above mean sea level, and many islands and atolls are lower (Owen et al., 2016). As climate change causes sea levels to rise and weather patterns to shift, the Marshall Islands face flooding, heat stress and drought that damages agriculture, livelihoods, homes and infrastructure (Keener et al., 2012; Marra et al., 2017).

When the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards increases, residents may have to make the difficult choice of whether to leave their home islands in the hope of a more stable future. Marshallese migrants move within the country to larger islands or to the United States of America where the Compact of Free Association allows them to live and work under a special status (Graham, 2008; McElfish, 2016). However, push and pull factors triggering human migration are complex and often intertwined, making it difficult to pinpoint and address specific causes (The Government Office for Science, 2011).

The Marshall Islands Climate and Migration Project studies the multicausal nature of Marshallese migration, as well as its effects on migrants themselves and on home communities (van der Geest et al., 2019). It does so through people-centred research, seeking the views of Marshallese migrants and their relatives in the Marshall Islands. The research has a special focus on how impacts of climate change affect ecosystem services, livelihoods and migration decisions. This focus is shown in Figure 1.

This policy brief highlights key findings of the migration component of the research. It presents data and findings on migration patterns, drivers and impacts. It ends with a discussion of the results, with a focus on the tension between being prepared to move and fortifying to stay in place.

International Organization for Migration
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