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Many climate refugees can never return

Many climate refugees can never return

The scene he describes is hard to resist. On his recent visit to South Sudan, he met a woman in her seventies who was desperately trying to build a mud shelter around her house. Floods were approaching and everyone knew that large parts of the earth would soon be submerged.

Everyone knows that it is useless and that the wall and the house will soon disappear, says Andrew Harper.

He works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a Special Adviser on Climate Action. A large part of his work involves visiting the world’s most vulnerable countries and learning about the needs of the people there.

South Sudan Centre

According to a recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council, 71 million people were displaced worldwide at the end of last year, up 20 percent from the previous year. According to the report, climate change and conflicts are the main reasons why a record number of people are forced to leave their homes.

– South Sudan is like a center for all the problems the world is facing. Internal strife, economic problems and natural disasters. Either they don’t have water or there’s flooding,” says Andrew Harper during his visit to Stockholm.

The reason for the visit is a conference organized by the European Migration Network EMN regarding Sweden’s presidency of the European Union, he likes the topic, and the importance of climate change for future migration flows.

– It’s cold. It shows that the issue is there and that people are willing to discuss it. Then more than talk is needed.

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have hope

That countries lacking resources are most affected by extreme weather events is not news. It is also often about countries experiencing internal conflicts. The vast majority of those fleeing climate change are also fleeing within a country or to neighboring countries to temporary housing and camps.

But when floods or drought devastate vast areas, people will not be able to return to the homes they fled from. Then refugee camps become permanent homes.

– We cannot help refugees without investing in local people and we cannot invest in them without preparing them for climate change and the environment – everything is connected.

When asked if Andrew Harper had hope, he answered unequivocally yes. There are no alternatives, he says. He has seen firsthand how local projects can make a difference.

Examples include planting extensive trees that reduce flooding and investing in water systems powered by solar panels, among others.

– We have so much knowledge, science and technology that there are almost no unsolvable problems. Many countries in Africa, like Kenya for example, have worked a lot with different adaptations.

But I think we must invest in countries that are showing they want to make a difference and where the money is going to the most vulnerable. He says it’s not always easy.

Need new money

He supports the Climate Damages and Losses Fund that was set out during COP27. It targets the poorest countries that have been hit hardest by climate change, to which they have contributed the least possible through their small emissions. However, he is concerned that there will be no more money without donor countries moving money in from elsewhere.

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– There is no shortage of money in the world, and no one can say that when we have oil companies making record profits.

Andrew Harper, the Commission’s Special Adviser for Climate Action, on a visit to Sweden. Photo: Caisa Rasmussen/TT

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) in Geneva is part of the Norway-based NGO Flyktninghjelpen. The Internal Data Monitoring Center is one of the most reliable sources of statistics on the number of people displaced within their own countries, the so-called internally displaced persons, in the world.

Figures for internal refugees are currently the only way to get a picture of how common it is with climate refugees in the world, as climate refugees to another country are not grouped in a comprehensive manner.

According to the Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Center for Refugees, by 2022 the number of refugees inside Ukraine will reach 17 million people. In Pakistan, eight million people have been forced to flee within their own country.

16.5 million people have simultaneously been forced from their homes in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of them due to armed conflict.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia accounted for the largest number of new internal refugees in 2022.

Nearly three-quarters of the world’s internally displaced persons are in fewer than a dozen countries: Syria, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ukraine, Colombia, Ethiopia, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan.

Many have been on the run for years, as a result of intractable conflicts that are preventing them from returning home while continuing to force new ones to flee.

Source: Norwegian Refugee Assistance / Independent Data Monitoring Centre.