IOM helping PNG with climate change migrants
The international agency the IOM has committed to help Papua New Guinea cope with people forced to migrate by climate change.
The International Organisation for Migration is working with the Papua New Guinea Government on the human dimension of climate change.
IOM is an international body working with governments on migration issues.
It has just signed an MOU with PNG's Office of Climate Change and Development aiming to help with the migration of people resulting from the effects of climate change.
One of the first areas in which they will work is the Carteret Islands where several thousand people are still living but are no longer able to grow their own food because of sea level rise and waves washing across the tiny atolls.
The IOM's head of mission in PNG, George Gigauri, told Don Wiseman their work can mean helping victims with resettlement or helping them adjust to the changed circumstances within their environments.
GEORGE GIGAURI: We recognise that climate change is the new driver of migration and we are working together with our partners on a number of things but ultimately it is about helping people to adapt to the climate change and the changes around them induced by environmental changes. And that ranges from disaster risk reduction work to ultimately resettlement from areas that are no longer hospitable.
DON WISEMAN: In terms of resettlement do you think that there needs to be a recognition of a category of refugee who is a climate change refugee, because it is going to become an issue isn't it?
GG: Well I would say that it is already an issue. But I have to add something in relation to the terminology. They can be an environmental or climate migrant, or a forced climate migrant through climate change but they cannot be a climate refugee because refugee is a legally defined term which has nothing to do with environmental change.
DW: Does there need to be a redefinition of that word refugee, to cater for this?
GG: I don't think we need to redefine the word refugee I think we need to recognise an important category of forced migrant, who are forced to adapt to climate change, and they have special needs and of course they have rights, and it is the responsibility of the government and other partners to ensure that these rights are safeguarded and that durable solutions are found for these people.
DW: When you are talking about a larger country like Papua New Guinea and I know you have got some focus on the Carteret Islands in Bougainville, there is a larger area of land they are able to move to, but that is not also the case in the Pacific, as in the case of Kiribati, and we have had this case in New Zealand just this week of a man who has been refused an opportunity to have himself declared a climate refugee, because I guess in the end, the definition doesn't exist.
GG: Well exactly. This is an emerging challenge and exponentially growing challenge. Ultimately, what do we do with the people whose islands are basically drowning and they have nowhere to go. And also to add, Papua New Guinea is a bigger country than Kiribati or Tuvalu for example, but 95 percent of land is customary land so even if there is land available it doesn't mean that these people will be able to settle there because the host community might not agree to take them.
DW: If we could talk about the Carterets. We have talked recently with Ursula Rakova of the Tulele Peisa group, and they are trying to resettle people on mainland Bougainville but there are a lot of people who, despite the challenges, want to remain on the Carterets, but they are struggling, increasingly to feed themselves. So when the IOM looks at that situation, what would you do?
GG: Well first of all you have to understand the anthropological context of these communities and we have to recognise this very strong link, this connection that exists between Pacific cultures and the land that they live on. So it is completely understandable that people don't want to move. But I think with time and increasing awareness about what is going to ultimately happen to these islands, people will understand that there is no choice. That they will have to move.
DW: The Tulele Peisa group, what they want to do is have food grown on the mainland and have it shipped out but what they need is a proper shipping facility to do that.
GG: Yes we are aware. Food security is one of the areas that we are aiming to improve but what we must realise is that, all of these, whether it is water sanitation or hygiene activities or food security, whether it is implementing irrigation infrastructure and so on, all of these are short term measures.
DW: Just to return then to the use of the term migrant against the term refugee, you would never see the acceptance within the Western legal system of the term climate refugee.
GG: Well it is simply legally incorrect. It is quite simple. Refugee is a legally defined term - it is outlined in the Refugee Convention of 1951 and it basically refers to a person who has a well founded fear of persecution and there are five drivers of persecution. Religion, ethnicity, rape etc and climate isn't one of them. So it is legally incorrect to refer to someone as an environmental refugee. However it is perfectly acceptable to call them environmental migrants, or internally displaced persons due to climate change, and there are a number of definitions you can come up with but not environmental refugee.
DW: Yes but does that just show a hole in the legal system?
GG: I think it definitely points to a new category and points to the need to recognise this new category and develop a new legal framework for them. It doesn't mean that we have to change the Refugee Convention, it just perhaps means that we have to come up with a new, whether it is a regional or a national or even a global convention, that is some sort of a normative instrument that recognises this special category of people. So yes the legal system does need to catch up to this emerging group.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: