Senator Markey Introduces First of Its Kind Legislation to Address Climate “Refugee” Crisis
An average of approximately 22.5 million people annually are displaced worldwide by climate or weather-related events
Washington (September 27, 2019) – According to the United Nations, by 2050, there may be as many as 200 million climate-displaced persons worldwide. As populations continue to experience climate-induced disruptions, including weather-related disasters, drought, famine, and rising sea levels, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced legislation (S.2565) to create both a global climate resilience strategy and a new humanitarian program for those who have been displaced by environmental disasters or climate change. Climate-displaced persons often lack any formal protection under domestic or international law. Many individuals do not meet the definition of refugee under U.S. law, and as such, they cannot access resettlement opportunities in the United States. The humanitarian program for climate-displaced persons will function separate from the U.S. refugee admissions program, but will afford the same benefits.
Senator Markey’s legislation is just one component of an effort to address the growing humanitarian crisis around the world and along the U.S. border being fueled by climate change. This week, Senator Markey demanded answers from President Donald Trump about why his administration has cut food-related aid to Central America, noting findings from Customs and Border Protection that crop shortages and food insecurity linked to climate change are driving migration from the region. And Senator Markey today sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concern that the Trump administration pressured the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) to remove references to climate change from IOM documents or risk losing funding from the United States. A copy of that letter can be found HERE.
“The climate crisis is fueling an humanitarian crisis around the world, and without intervention the crisis will become a catastrophe,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-author of the Green New Deal. “Women, children, Indigenous people, and people of color are the most likely to be affected by climate migration, making them even more vulnerable to conflict, violence, and persecution. The United States needs a global strategy for resilience and a plan to deal with migration driven by climate change.
“We cannot allow climate-displaced persons to fall through the cracks in our system of humanitarian protections simply because they do not meet the definition of refugee. America has the capacity and should be the global leader in resettlement, and that means equally responding to climate displaced individuals as we do refugees.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.
Senator Markey’s legislation takes on the shared global responsibility of climate change adaptation, global disaster risk reduction, resiliency building, and disaster response and recovery, as well as assists in providing durable solutions for climate-displaced persons. Specifically, the bill directs the Secretary of State, in coordination with the USAID Administrator, to devise a “Global Climate Resilience Strategy”. The State Department must create a Coordinator of Climate Resilience position, responsible for all federal efforts to address the effects of events caused by climate change. The legislation also gives the President authority to furnish assistance to programs and initiatives to promote resilience among communities facing climate change impacts, and directs the President to collect and maintain data on displacement caused by climate change.
The legislation is endorsed by Foreign Policy for America, Human Rights First, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Church World Service, Refugees International, International Refugee Assistance Project, National Partnership for New Americans, and Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).
“As the planet continues to warm and we see increasing numbers of climate-driven disasters, the global community must address the challenges of climate-related migration – both the risks to global stability and the humanitarian consequences for vulnerable populations,” said Andrew Albertson, Executive Director, Foreign Policy for America. “FP4A commends Senator Markey for introducing this important legislation to force the U.S. government to plan for the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and to maintain U.S. leadership in addressing global humanitarian challenges.”
“Climate change is threating the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest right now,” said Abby Maxman, President, Oxfam America. “Senator Markey’s legislation signals how to provide a humane system for welcoming those forced to flee their homes. We must confront all aspects of the climate crisis and this bill would provide an important new tool to help address its impacts.”
“LIRS commends Senator Markey for introducing this bill,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “At a time when we are witnessing increased global displacement of people due to extreme weather, flooding and drought, it makes sense that we as a nation expand humanitarian relief and resettlement as a shining example of moral leadership in the face of 21st-century environmental challenges."
“This climate crisis threatens the homes, livelihoods, and well-being of the most vulnerable populations around the world,” said Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service. “We must be ready to respond to people migrating due to desertification, rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and violent conflict exacerbated by all of these factors. As a global humanitarian organization and refugee resettlement agency, CWS applauds Senator Markey’s leadership in sponsoring this bill, as well as the GRACE Act, to ensure U.S. humanitarian leadership in response to the most profound crises we face today.”
“The need to acknowledge and address expanding migration challenges such as climate change is no longer up for debate,” said Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International. “This legislation is a timely and important step forward that will provide additional protection measures, including resettlement opportunities, for those who have been displaced by environmental disasters or climate change.”
“From our work representing refugees seeking safety, IRAP knows that our clients often flee from climate change-linked conflicts and disasters,” said Betsy Fisher, Director of Strategy, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “IRAP is eager to support legislative solutions like this bill, which will protect people who are forced to flee from environmental changes.”
“We need to affirm this country as a nation of refuge, including for those displaced by climate change,” said Diego Iñiguez-López, Policy and Campaigns Manager for the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA). “For this reason, we endorse Senator Markey’s legislation to address the global refugee crisis, which is increasingly caused by our disregard for the environment and its human consequences.”
“We deeply appreciate Senator Markey’s tireless efforts to protect and uphold the humanitarian values that America has championed for so long,” said Eva A. Millona, Executive Director, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). “By introducing this bill, Senator Markey highlights not only the continued assaults by this administration on the most vulnerable populations, but also those factors that are leading to devastation and displacement around the world.