7 Oct 2022 - by A4ID

East Africa shines light on issue of climate change migration

At 3:29 Pasca and I met François Germenne, climate change and migration expert, off the Eurostar from Paris. We decamped to the champagne bar (it was the only quiet place!) and sat down to interview him about the rise in so-called ‘climate change’ migration and the legal and policy challenges that this has brought up.

Having just graduated from a Geography degree, migration and climate change are two topics that are very familiar to me. However, whilst I have studied both separately to some depth, I have never focused on the link between the two, so was very interested to see what François had to say.

The interview started off with a general overview of the term ‘environmental migration’, and explored some of the debates around the term ‘climate change migration’ and ‘climate change refugees.’ François also discussed the lack of recognition that those forced to migrate due to climate change have under current international laws.

François discussed what legal changes are being made to increase the visibility climate change migrants in international systems and noted some important legal developments that will take place in the next 12 months.

Following the interview I started to think a lot about climate change migration and whether the ability to move should be a human right? It is accepted that people should have the right to water and the right to food, so should they have the right to move, particularly when the environment is failing to sustain their livelihoods due to the impacts of climate change?

The current images emerging from East Africa are primarily of families who have had to leave their homes and walk to refugee camps in search of food, water and healthcare.

The reasons behind this devastating food crisis are many and complex, but at the heart of it lies the fact that the worst drought in 60 years has left more than 10 million people unable to feed themselves.

Some have managed to find their way to a camp and some support, but not all. And if droughts continue to happen with ever increasing frequency in East Africa, where will all the people go?

Within the global community the emphasis remains on reducing migration but there are increasing numbers of people asking whether there should be more of a focus on implementing the correct policies to enable migration? Whilst some see migration as a failure of the native population to adapt, maybe migration is their only way of ‘adapting.’

This in turn raises other interesting questions; instead of Western nations tightening their immigration policies, should they be working alongside the developing world to implement policies that will facilitate the movement of people? Considering the contribution made by Western nations to climate change, is it fair that they then deny climate change migrants the right to move to another country that is far safer than their own?

One thing is clear, the displacement of people will only continue to increase, therefore some serious thinking must be done on how to successfully manage migration for now and in the future, rather than trying to prevent it.


Hannah Blake is a Development Awareness Intern at A4ID.