By Andrew Edelmann
Displacement is no longer linear. With the sheer scope of today’s refugee crisis and the widespread emergence of mass displacements due to climate change, we can no longer view displacement as a temporary stage on the path from crisis to resettlement but as a chronic way of life for tens of millions around the world. As the paradigm shifts, governments and international organizations must change how they perceive and respond to displacement scenarios.
Between 2005 and 2015, 40% of all refugees were displaced for more than three years at any one time. More shocking still, in 2014 refugees from 33 protracted conflicts were displaced for an average of 25 years. This a three-fold increase from the 1990’s (Dryden-Peterson, 2017).
Furthermore, climate change threatens to leave far more people displaced, with gut-punch estimates putting the number at 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050 (BBC, 2021). Most of these, crucially, will never be able to return home (Biermann and Boaz, 2008). The Rohinghya refugees in Bangladesh are a worrying example of how climate change threatens the hopes of those already displaced. When nearly a million Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh, they concentrated in that country’s Cox’s Bazar region, with tens of thousands relocated to a facility on Bhasan Chan, an artificial island only meters above sea level (BBC, 2021). The region has historically been prone to flooding exacerbated by climate change. Without adequate housing and citizen rights, the Rohingya there are especially vulnerable to flooding and consequently in a state of long-term instability. Some mid-century estimates put displacement levels due to climate change in Bangladesh alone above today’s global tally of 80 million (Biermann and Boaz, 2008). The scope of such a displacement would extend far beyond the Rohingya, but it illustrates the plight of migrants resettling in regions whose climate will soon see them displaced again.
We see a similar case with Mauritius, whose roughly 1.2 million inhabitants are soon expected to lose their islands to the rising Pacific. (Biermann and Boaz, 2008). These people along with those of many other island nations will have to be relocated to new countries, and currently there exists no clear protocol to handle such a relocation. It is important to make preventative relocations before flooding actually becomes a crisis. These relocations are predictable, and aid actors can use this to their advantage. With sufficient time, systems like TRAQS could be used to effectively distribute migrants to different host states before it’s too late (Bahar, 2016).
Refugees experiencing chronic displacement find themselves in a purgatory between the past and the future and are deprived of a present where they can grow, learn, and begin to restart the lives they fled. In 2018, half of all refugees were children (Karaspan 2020). Most of these children grow up without any sort of adequate education, and refugee education policies typically depend on children either being resettled or returning to their homelands (Dryden-Peterson, 2017). In the increasingly common scenario where neither is an option, refugee policies should aim to provide education and other opportunities for partial self-sufficiency for children and adults alike who may spend decades in refugee camps or as serial migrants.
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