CMV: The EU should offer citizenship to people from island nations inundated by rising sea levels

Sat Jun 09 2018 15:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)


Mark Alfano

TU Delft

Associate Professor

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Residents of low-lying island nations face the inevitable prospect of rising seas caused by the melting of polar icecaps and glaciers. Unlike residents of coastal regions like southern Florida, these islanders will soon have nowhere to retreat as the waters rise. Clearly, these people need options for relocation. Current immigration and refugee law, however, does not recognize climate change as a distinctive reason to emigrate. And politicians from these countries understandably prefer “migrating with dignity,” in the words of former Kiribati president Anote Tong, to forced relocation in the face of emergencies and disasters.

For these reasons, other nations with the capacity to welcome new residents — especially those with a legacy of high emissions — bear a special responsibility to assist with dignified migration. New Zealand has so far led the way with a new visa program for residents of Pacific island nations. But New Zealand is small and visas do not provide permanent residency and rights. Europe has both more capacity and more legacy emissions than New Zealand, so the European Union should take the lead in offering not just visas but citizenship to residents of island nations that will soon be inundated. Doing so will place Europe at the forefront of tackling emergent global problems at a time when the world needs serious, sober, and compassionate leadership.

From a logistical point of view, such a program will require an initial outlay of resources, but it can also be expected to offer long-term benefits to Europe’s economy and culture. The envisioned program would cover the following island nations: Kiribati (110,000 residents), Nauru (10,000 residents), the Maldives (427,000 residents), Palau (21,000 residents), Micronesia (104,000 residents), Cape Verde (540,000 residents), the Solomon Island (600,000 residents), the Seychelles (94,000 residents), Tuvalu (11,000 residents), and the Marshall Islands (53,000 residents). Altogether, this sums to fewer than two million people. For context, in 2015 alone approximately one million migrants arrived in Europe. Since the islanders would presumably not all arrive at once, their relocation and integration would be relatively easy to manage.

Background Information

  • Climate change has been verbally recognized by EU- and UN-representatives as a contributing factor to migration and flight:

    • “Climate change is one of the root causes of a new migration phenomenon. Climate refugees will become a new challenge – if we do not act swiftly”
      - Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

    • “If you look at the root causes of many crisis that we are now experiencing, it has lot of connection with the impacts of climate change impact.”
      - Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

  • However, while the term “climate change refugee” has gained traction in the media, it has no legal weight. “Climate refugees” are “are not recognized or specifically protected under international law. In fact there is not even an agreed upon definition on how to categorize these types of migrants.”

  • Neither the EU nor the UN legally recognize “climate refugees”. (1) The UN Refugee Convention does not recognize this class of people as ‘refugees’ since climate/environmental causes are not enlisted within the Convention / (2) Similarly, the term is not legally recognized by the EU and it is not possible to interpret existing legislation as incorporating “climate refugees” within the protection regime”

Read more

Why climate migrants do not have refugee status

The debate on climate change-induced migration in the EU: Is Resilience Showing through?öpker_BA_BMS.pdf

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