Posts Tagged ‘refugees’

Deirdre Duffy: Legitimate Victims, Illegitimate Agents

November 16, 2009 2 comments

logoThis is our second guest post from Deirdre Duffy. You can read about Deirdre on our Guest Contributors page.

According to the author Stanley Cohen (1997), no group has been as systematically and consciously demonised as refugees and asylum seekers. In his analyses of the creation of moral panics Cohen argues that at no point have this group been portrayed – accurately or otherwise – as anything other than a threat to society as a whole. Their status as people in need of refuge and sanctuary has been constantly questioned. It is little wonder then that advocates of refugee and asylum seekers constantly try to underline this group’s victimhood. Asylum seekers are not, after all, seeking asylum without good reason. However, in the long term, this promotion of the victimhood of refugees and asylum seekers places them in an extremely precarious position, one felt by many vulnerable groups, where their villainy is only negated by their ability to be victims. While this may not seem to be problematic, it is quite disempowering and restrictive of their ability to move from being asylum seekers to ordinary members of society by themselves. Legitimacy means powerlessness.

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International Human Rights and Climate Change

October 15, 2009 3 comments

Today, October 15, is Blog Action Day and this year’s issue is climate change. Over a decade ago, most countries joined an international treaty; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to encourage action on the issue of global warming. The website of the UNFCC is here. More recently, a great number of nations, including Ireland but excluding the United States, ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 15, will take place  in Copenhagen, Denmark this December. The Conference website contains a wealth of information while The  Guardian has a good set of resources on COP15 here. COP15 has been billed as the most important Conference  to date.

The human rights challenges posed by climate change are myriad. We are becoming aware, in particular, of the phenomenon of  ‘climate change refugees’. The possibility that climate change will render the present inhabitants of small island nations stateless is very real. You can find the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ resources on climate change here, including its May 2009 report Forced Displacement in the Context of Climate Change: Challenges for States Under International Law.

Today the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development warned that international refugee law was inadequate to deal with migrants who have been displaced by the natural disasters which flow from climate change. In September, Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation similarly wrote on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog that:

[T]here is a complete absence of any formal, enforceable, legal multilateral mechanism designed to address the needs of these people and assist in creating some greater equality and proportionality between those causing climate change and those most affected.

The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was drafted in the immediate aftermath of the second world war; its focus on those who are forced from their country of origin through fear of persecution, “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. In today’s world, the 1951 convention cannot meet the needs of climate refugees, as its narrow legal definitions will not apply to most of those affected by climate change. Also, the specific desire and best option for many will be to stay within their national boundaries if the financial and technical assistance to do so were forthcoming.

Just as the overarching threat of climate change is one of global responsibility, so is the fate of climate refugees. In this context, there is a clear and compelling imperative to create a new multilateral legal mechanism – and with it a new legal definition for climate refugees – that enshrines the right to life, food, health, water, housing and other essentials. This should apply to all those who are now affected and the millions more who will be affected by the changes in our climate created largely by a distant, and still largely unresponsive, wealthy west.

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