For the first time, organisations from across the migration sector in Britain, from advocacy and campaigning, to legal support and community organising, have come together as world leaders gather for COP27 to issue an urgent call for solidarity with people forced to move because of the impacts of the climate crisis.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Migrants Organise and City of Sanctuary UK have come together to call on world leaders and the British government to take immediate action on the climate crisis, create just and welcoming policies.
Migration is key to the story of human history. We move for love, for work or study, or because we cannot stay in the place we grew up in.
But for decades, politicians in Britain and across the world have been building walls and barriers that make life impossible for those who move across borders. Politicians, multinational corporations and the media feed xenophobic myths and narratives about migrant communities, to sow division amongst the multiracial and global working class – simply to protect those in power.
As the horrors of the climate crisis become realities, these narratives are being ramped up. Human movement caused by climate change is not a crisis – it’s a symptom of other, very real and interconnected, crises: of capitalism and colonialism.
The richest 1% of the world’s population cause twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 50%. That same poorest 50% – 3.5 billion people – live overwhelmingly in countries most vulnerable to climate breakdown, meaning that they are bearing the brunt of a crisis they did not cause.
That disparity is a legacy of colonialism and ongoing imperialism. As part of the colonial project, countries in the Global North decimated rainforests, wetlands, grasslands and minerals to extract resources, and indigenous communities were enslaved, displaced and murdered so that colonisers could exploit their land to increase their own wealth and power. The profits flowed up to the colonial rulers and back to Europe, which accumulated wealth that continues to be hoarded to this day.
Globally, we live in a system which allows the rich to thrive, while ignoring those most affected by the climate crisis – the poor and working classes, racialised communities, people in the Global South.
Sadly, as climate disaster escalates, we are seeing the British government criminalise people seeking safety in Britain, and embracing the politics of the far-right – trying to send refugees to Rwanda, locking more and more people up in asylum camps and in detention centres, and breaking their climate pledges.
Migration is part of the solution. As the impacts of the climate crisis accelerate, people will need to move to find safety. The latest predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that heat waves, sea level rise, storms and droughts will make some parts of the world harder and harder to live in. As organisations that work with people on the frontlines of climate breakdown, we know firsthand that for many, migration is already a survival strategy.
As large swathes of our planet become unlivable, people forced to move are now being punished, criminalised and even blamed for the consequences of climate chaos – as if they were responsible for these problems instead of the politicians and billionaires profiting from climate destruction.
As a group of refugee and migrants’ rights organisations, we are deeply concerned by this. The climate change negotiations taking place in Egypt this year must make progress in protecting the rights and welfare of people who are on the move in an era of climate breakdown. Wealthy, high-emitting countries like Britain must accept their responsibility for creating the planet-wide heating that is driving disasters and causing displacement. Accepting this responsibility means more than just cutting carbon emissions. We must act now to create safe avenues for people who have been forced to move by the impacts of climate breakdown. Governments must end hostile immigration policies, and build a system that ensures everyone can live in dignity and justice.