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The World's Forgotten Refugees

By Sara Davies

Climate change will exponentially expand the global refugee crisis. By 2050, it is predicted that the number of people displaced by natural disasters will rise to at least 50 million and could reach 200 million (“Environmental Refugee”). Pre-existing social, racial, and economic inequalities leave marginalized people especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change (Jayawardhan 105). Global action should, therefore, be focused on devising long term solutions that address the causes of climate displacement

Socioeconomic conditions should be considered when addressing climate displacement. In 2009, Cyclone Aila hit the Bangladesh coast displacing two million people (Jayawardhan 125). Bangladesh is especially vulnerable to climate change. 63 percent of the population depends on fishing, agriculture, and forestry to make a living (Kartiki 25). After the cyclone, adequate resources weren’t devoted to making areas devastated by the cyclone suitable for agriculture again, making migration unavoidable for the poorest farmers (Jayawardhan 128). Socioeconomic inequities caused those in lower classes to migrate disproportionally. To avoid these high levels of migration, resources should have been allocated to making regions suitable for agriculture again, without excluding the most vulnerable communities.

Since Alia is the type of emergency that other countries may need to respond to in the future, responses can be informed by failures in Bangladesh (Dhaka 8). A valuable lesson for the international community is that when funding disaster support, ecological and socioeconomic vulnerabilities must be considered for equitable resource distribution. Unlike in Bangladesh, institutional supports for migrants from NGOs or the government must be provided so that displaced people can rebuild their lives (Bishawjit and Vogt 237).

Responses to climate driven displacement can’t only be reactive, advanced planning should be utilized. One potential action would be identifying funding that could be used to relocate affected refugees (Vong). In countries where relocation is not the only option, adaptive infrastructure should be increased to prevent displacement (Jayawardhan 136). Countries that depend on vulnerable ecology should invest in diversifying economies (Jayawardhan 137). In Bangladesh, cyclones have increased the salinity of farmland causing normal crops to no longer grow, posing a threat to communities that rely on agriculture (“There Could be…”). Local NGOs are teaching Bangladeshi farmers to grow different crops, therefore, protecting livelihoods by diversifying the economy.

Refugees displaced by climate disasters don’t fit the definition of refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention (“Climate Refugees…”). At the end of August 2021, Bangladesh hosted more than 890,000 Rohingya refugees (“Rohingya Crisis”). Rohingya refugees have faced ethnic cleansing and statelessness due to discriminatory actions (Khin 53). Now, these refugees are at risk of becoming climate refugees (“There could be…”). To protect the rights of climate refugees, an international mechanism must be established to protect them (“Climate Refugees…”).

Climate change leaves millions at risk of being displaced. Rohingya refugees have seen their lives stagnate (Islam). Rohingya children are deprived of opportunities to learn and are at risk of being a lost generation, rather than a hope for the future (“Rohingya Crisis”). In addressing the climate refugee crisis, this hopelessness must be avoided. Refugees need to be empowered and involved in the decisions and actions that impact their futures.


Works Cited

“Climate Refugees- the World’s Forgotten Victims.” World Economic Forum, 2021, victims/

Dhaka, Sandie. “A Review of the Cyclone Aila Response 2009 IFRC-led Emergency Shelter Coordination Group.” 2009, pp. 8,

“Environmental Refugee.” National Geographic,

Islam, Imrul. “5 Years on, The World is Failing the Rohingya.” The Diplomat, 2022,

Jayawardhan, Shweta. “Vulnerability and Climate Change Induced Human Displacement.” Consilience, no. 17, 2017, pp. 103–42. JSTOR,

Kartiki, Kartha. “Climate Change and Migration: a Case Study from Rural Bangladesh.” Gender and Development, vol. 19, 2011, pp. 23-28, Taylor and Francis,

Khin, Tun. “Rohingya: A Preventable Genocide Allowed to Happen.” Insight Turkey, vol. 19, no. 4, 2017, pp. 43–54. JSTOR,

Mallick, Bishawjit, and Joachim Vogt. "Cyclone, coastal society and migration: empirical evidence from Bangladesh." International Development Planning Review, vol. 34, no. 3, June 2012, pp. 229-237. Gale Academic OneFile, holar&xid=4050c58d

“Rohingya Crisis.” Unicef,

“There Could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050. Here’s what you need to know.” Zurich, 2022, climate-refugees-by-2050-here-s-what-you-need-to-know

Vong, Suong. “Protecting Climate Refugees is Crucial for the Future.” Human Inaction USA, 2017, is-crucial-for-the-future/

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