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UNHCR, UNU Highlight Climate Change’s Contribution to Human Displacement

21 June 2012: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN University (UNU) released a report titled “Climate Change, Vulnerability and Human Mobility: Perspectives of Refugees from the East and Horn of Africa” on the sidelines of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20). The report illustrates the role of climate change in increasing human vulnerability and driving people from their homes and across borders, potentially into areas of conflict.

Refugees interviewed for the publication reported leaving their homes as a last resort. Most refugees first moved to temporary areas and then left their countries after insecurity affected these areas. Refugees described longer, more severe droughts and disrupted rainfall patterns as contributing to their decision to move, though none directly attributed these weather changes to violent conflict. Some refugees said severe drought led to scarcity of crops and food, which then exacerbated pre-existing conflicts, persecution and repression.

Speaking at the report launch, António Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, stated that he is "convinced that climate change will increasingly be a driver in worsening displacement crises in the world.”

The 1951 UN Refugee Convention does not currently include people displaced across borders as a result of environmental change or extreme weather events. The Convention defines a person who qualified as a refugee as one with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, relation, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The Nansen Initiative, which will be formally launched in October 2012 by Norway and Switzerland with the support of UNHCR and the Norwegian Refugee Council, aims to address this legal and protection gap.

The publication is based on discussions with 150 internally displaced persons and refugees from Ethiopia and Uganda, many of whom were farmers and pastoralists from Eritrea, Somalia and eastern Sudan. [UNU Press Release] [UNHCR Press Release] [UN Press Relase] [Publication: Climate Change, Vulnerability and Human Mobility: Perspectives of Refugees from the East and Horn of Africa]