‘My dad’s village no longer exists’

“MY dad, he was born in a village that doesn’t exist anymore,” UNHCR goodwill ambassador Emtithal Mahmoud said on Monday in an appeal to world leaders to do more to support people who have been forced to flee their homes because of climate change.

At the start of the second, and final, week of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, governments turned to the thorny issue of how to help the most vulnerable deal with global warming and compensate for damage already done.

But with climate migrants not qualifying for refugee status under the UN High Convention for Refugees, that leaves people driven from their homes with little or no protection when they land, with governments often seeing them as illegal aliens.

Mahmoud, a Sudanese-American poet whose family was driven from Sudan by war, said her father’s village no longer existed because of “a combination of conflict and desertification – another word people used before we started saying climate change”.

She called for action at COP26, to end a lack of movement on the issue after years of discussion.

Climate change is expected to drive migration to new levels, with disruptions to food supplies, water security and increasingly severe weather extremes in coming decades.

In the six months between September 2020 and February 2021, 10.3 million people were displaced by climate-fuelled natural disasters – more than four times the 2.3 million displaced by conflict during the same period, a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

Andrew Harper, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR’s special adviser on climate action, warned governments that after a doubling of the numbers of refugees in the last 20 years, they should be wary over how many there would be in the next 20 years.

“There is no time,” he said. “We need to be doing something now.”

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