Q+A The impacts of climate change on migration

An interview with Eunice Ndonga, AFSC's International Migration Director.

Q: How does climate change affect migration?

Climate change is a driver of violence and human displacement. Droughts, cyclones, wildfires, flooding, and other climate emergencies have devastated communities, destroying their economies, agriculture, and infrastructure. This compounds issues many communities already face, such as war, inequalities, human rights violations, and gender disparities. 

As a result, climate change causes and exacerbates massive displacement. People leave their homes in search of survival, protection, and better opportunities. They also want to live dignified lives.

Globally, human displacement and migration are increasing conflicts over competition for natural resources. We see this in the Horn of Africa region for instance, where drought has been ravaging the region for the past two years.

Q: How has the international community responded to migrants displaced by climate change?

Migration is an inherent right of all people. But we’re continuing to see more challenges for migrants and refugees. 

When it comes to people displaced by climate change, the greatest challenge is that the international community doesn’t officially recognize “climate refugees.” Even if people move to a country because of flooding or famine due to climate change, the state will not treat that as a reason to allow migrants to stay. The U.N. Global Compact for Migration calls on states to develop solutions for migrants forced to leave their homes because of climate change. While this helps in calling governments to account, it is not a binding legal framework.

Instead, states are responding with more barrier walls, more stringent entry policies and practices, and more detention. This further inhibits migrants’ rights and liberties.

Q: What must be done to support people displaced by climate change?

Low-income countries and communities—particularly Indigenous communities—have made the fewest contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, but they bear the brunt of climate injustices. That’s where the conversation must begin. We must emphasize the responsibilities and accountability of countries that contribute the most to climate change. We must focus on protecting the human rights of people who are most adversely affected.

Organizations, such as AFSC, are working on this. We are calling on governments to move money from military spending, national security, and controlling borders. Instead, governments must invest in meeting migrant needs, defending human rights, and preventing climate injustices in the long term to promote peace.

AFSC works with migrants and refugees in places around the world. We provide humanitarian assistance, trauma healing, and spaces to promote dialogue and understanding. We also help them know their rights and advocate. Key to this approach is putting the needs, agency, and power of impacted communities at the center to build thriving, resilient communities.

We ensure migrants’ voices and leadership determine whatever support AFSC provides.