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Norway and Switzerland mobilise support for the environmentally displaced

Every year, floods, droughts and earthquakes force millions of people to flee their countries. Environmentally displaced people are particularly vulnerable when they cross international borders, since they do not have the legal protection accorded to political refugees. Norway and Switzerland want the international community to find new ways of helping these people.

 

“Environmental displacement is a growing humanitarian problem due to climate change,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide said.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva that receives Norwegian funding has compiled statistics since 2009 on the number of people that are forced to flee each year as a result of natural disasters. The figure has varied from year to year, from 14 million to over 40 million, depending on the scale of the natural disasters and the ability of the countries concerned to deal with them.

On 2 October, Norway launched the Nansen Initiative in Geneva together with Switzerland. Norway’s aim is to involve more countries in efforts to find new solutions to the problem of environmentally displaced people, in cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), representatives of civil society and research communities.

While political refugees crossing international borders can claim protection under the UN Refugee Convention and the internally displaced are protected by national legislation, environmentally displaced people who flee their home countries are without legal protection of this kind.

“The Refugee Convention protects political refugees, and it must continue to do so. But we must also find new ways to strengthen the rights of the environmentally displaced,” Mr Eide said. 

The Nansen Initiative will discuss topics such as improving humanitarian response, international cooperation and new forms of legal protection.

Floods, droughts, and in the longer term rising sea levels threaten the livelihoods of a great many people. Those who live on islands and in deltas are particularly vulnerable. At the same time, many people are forced to flee for longer or shorter periods of time due to earthquakes and other disasters that are not climate-related.

The Nansen Initiative is a follow-up to the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement that the Norwegian Government hosted in Oslo in June 2011.

 

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