World facing biggest ever migration crisis, says new report

By staff writers
18 May 2007

Some 1 billion people will be forced from their homes by 2050 as climate change deepens an already huge global migration crisis, predicts an authoritative new report by Christian Aid - which shows that scapegoating immigrants is the wrong approach.

At least 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050 as the effects of climate change deepen an already burgeoning global migration crisis, predicts a new report by the UK-based international development agency Christian Aid.

Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis shows that the migration issue is not the one that British tabloid newspapers regularly whip up hysteria about – bogus allegations that the UK and other rich countries are being ‘flooded’ – but the conditions of poverty, ecological destruction and war which make life insecure for millions of people in the South.

Future climate migrants will swell the ranks of the 155 million people already displaced by conflict, disaster and large-scale development projects, says Christian Aid. The vast majority will be from the world’s poorest countries.

Urgent action by the world community is needed if the worst effects of this crisis are to be averted, the new report claims.

“We believe that forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world,” says John Davison, the report’s lead author.

Dennis McNamara (Special Adviser to the UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator) and Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher (acting head of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva) launched their survey and analysis crisis at a specially constructed displacement camp set up for the occasion on London’s South Bank on Monday 14 May 2007.

Publication also coincides with the 50th anniversary of Christian Aid Week, Britain and Ireland’s first and largest door-to-door charity fundraising collection.

The report warns that the world is now facing its largest ever movement of people forced from their homes. The predicted numbers of displaced people could dwarf even those left as refugees following the Second World War.

The impact of climate change is the great, frightening unknown in this equation, it says. Only now is serious academic attention being devoted to calculating the scale of this new human tide. Even existing estimates, more than a decade old, predict that hundreds of millions of people will be forced from their homes by floods, drought and famine sparked by climate change.

Security experts fear that this new migration will fuel existing conflicts and generate new ones in the areas of the world – the poorest – where resources are most scarce. A world of many more Darfurs is the increasingly likely nightmare scenario.

Most of those on the move will have to remain in their own countries – often at the mercy of the very governments which caused them to flee in the first place. These ‘internally displaced persons’, or ‘IDPs’, have no rights under international law and no official voice. Their living conditions are likely to be desperate and in many cases their lives will be in danger.

While the situation in Darfur has received a lot of media attention, most other recent coverage has focused on economic migrants and asylum seekers, says the report.

“We hear a lot about people trying to come to Europe and other rich countries. But the real crisis is developing a long way away and remains largely unreported,” adds Davison.

The Christian Aid report has been welcomed by some of the world’s leading experts on forced migration and displacement.

Dennis McNamara, Special Adviser to the UN Emergency Relief Co ordinator, and Director of the Inter-Agency Division on Displacement in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

He declared: “Tens of millions of the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world are uprooted and lack basic assistance and protection. They are the world’s voiceless and often inaccessible refugees.”

He continued: “As Christian Aid’s welcome new report says, their numbers can destabilize whole regions and may be an obstacle to building peace. Their problems must be urgently addressed, both for humanitarian as well political and security reasons.”

Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher, acting head of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva, also backed the report. The centre is the world’s leading independent authority on people displaced by conflict.

“Often at the mercy of governments that are not willing or capable to protect them, internally displaced people are among the most vulnerable victims of conflict,” said Eschenbaecher.

He added: “The global crisis of internal displacement is one of the great challenges of our time.”

Meanwhile, Dr Roberta Cohen is former co-director of the Project on Internal Displacement at the Brookings Institution, Washington DC.

“That tens of millions of people are forcibly uprooted within their own countries is both a terrible human tragedy and a threat to worldwide stability,” says Dr Cohen. “Christian Aid does an immense service in recognising climate change as a major factor underlying this growing crisis.”

Simon Barrow of the UK think tank Ekklesia, which focusses on transforming the impact of religion in public life, welcomed the Christian Aid report. “This is an excellent piece of work that blows apart the alarmist tabloid rhetoric about migrants, which seeks to blame them for their plight. The problem of migration will not be solved by closing our doors to those in need, whether humanitarian, political or economic. It can only be addressed by opening our hearts to the people caught in vicious underlying cycles of underdevelopment, injustice and climate change threat.”

Barrow continued: “These are problems that the UK and other rich countries have helped create in a major way. Both religious and non-religious people should recognise that it is a moral scandal to seek to avoid our responsibility by scapegoating others.”

Ekklesia says that Christian churches, many of which have been founded on migrations throughout history, have an obligation both to the practical needs of people caught up in the crisis, and to addressing the underlying issues.

“Christian Aid is one of the trailblazers in this area”, said the Ekklesia director. “In July 2007 the British and Irish Association for Mission Studies (BIAMS) will also be looking at the theological and political impact of people movements. Now is an opportunity to have a real debate, rather than one fuelled by scaremongering and politicians’ fear of prejudice around the issue.”

Case studies in Human tide: The Real Migration Crisis spell out in human detail how major internal migration crises have already developed in Sudan, in Uganda and in Sri Lanka. The main studies seek to highlight equally devastating situations that are still developing with far less attention from the wider international community.

Colombia is second only to Sudan for numbers of IDPs, with many living in crowded slums on the fringes of the capital, Bogotá. Originally forced to move by 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 have also been subject to decades of violence, displacement and persecution. Their government is now using the space created to plan dams and other large-scale developments, including palm oil plantations, leading to further, vicious forced displacement.

Mali lies in the Sahel belt of semi-arid land that straddles sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the areas vulnerable to global warming. Already farmers here are finding it impossible to live off the land in the way they have done for centuries. Erratic and declining levels of rainfall mean dramatically reduced crop yields – and people have to move in order to earn the money to feed their families.

Christian Aid, which 50 years ago was called Christian Reconstruction in Europe, was founded in response to the refugee crisis following the Second World War.

Download the new Christian Aid report, Human Tide: The Real Migration crisis here: full graphic version) (2mb *.PDF- this file may take time to download) or low graphic version (748kb *.PDF)

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