Celebrating International Migrants Day with a Call to our Philanthropic Allies

In 2000, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 18 as International Migrants Day. This day recognizes that international migration is a growing phenomenon in our world and calls us to reaffirm and uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees.

In early December, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Environmental Justice and Climate Action, Salote Soqo, participated in a stock-taking meeting for the Global Compact for Migration – an international mechanism for advancing a more unified approach to the needs of migrants. “The meeting was extraordinary,” Soqo says, “in the sense that in a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, there was great convergence amongst delegates around centering the global compact on the protection of the rights of all migrants.” The meeting sent a strong signal that the Global Compact — and the international community’s collective actions on migration — must be centered on human rights.

David Boseto, of UUSC Partner Ecological Solutions, and boat driver Muku in Wagina, Solomon Islands

This International Migrants Day, celebrate with UUSC as we issue a new resource, Community-Led, Human-Rights Based Solutions to Climate-Forced Displacement: A Guide for Funders. UUSC is calling more funders to engage directly on the issue of climate-forced displacement and to incorporate human rights-based approaches to amplify the voices, advocacy, and solutions of frontline communities.

Climate change is advancing rapidly and placing people’s human rights at risk. According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Report on Internal Displacement: GRID 2017, in 2016, 24.2 million people were newly internally displaced by natural disasters. It is likely that 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050.

“Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society.”

Climate-forced displacement is having severe impacts on human rights. Climate impacts exacerbate existing inequities in society. A majority of disaster-related displacements occur in low- and lower-middle income countries and disproportionately affect small island developing states, according to the Global Report on Internal Displacement. The spectrum we have developed outlines human rights at risk and key concerns for frontline communities, from the tipping point at which communities decide they must consider radical adaptation measures, through migration or resettlement.

→    The right to self-determination must be at the core of relocation planning.

“Frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges.”

While frontline communities have the most appropriate solutions to these challenges, these communities receive the smallest share of funding and are sidelined by state and international decision makers. Trends in financing favor climate change mitigation over other approaches. No reliable mechanisms exist for community organizations to access international funds directly. Indigenous communities face additional hurdles accessing funds from national governments — and it is even more difficult for unrecognized tribes.

Our guide offers concrete steps funders can take to advance community-led, human rights-based solutions to climate-forced displacement by:

  • Assessing how climate-forced displacement relates to a current strategy or portfolio
  • Effectively partnering with grassroots communities working on issues along the climate-forced displacement spectrum
  • Advancing a human rights-based approach to climate-forced displacement
  • Acting as a bridge and network builder to amplify the voice and impact of grassroots communities

Encroaching Erosion a Looming Threat to Chevak Native Village

Communities who have contributed the least to the planet’s climate crisis are threatened by accelerating climate change impacts. Chevak Native Village is one of the many frontline villages in Alaska which needs urgent protection. Minimal government assistance has left villagers to cope with weather related changes and erosion caused by increasing temperatures and thawing permafrost by themselves. But like other villages in Alaska, this community does not have sufficient capacity nor resources to deal with the barrage of ongoing climate issues, and is in need of immediate assistance.

Chevak village is about 518 miles northwest of Anchorage and about eight miles inland from the Bering Sea. The village is home to 1,200 Cup’ik villagers, including 200 children who attend the local Chevak School. The village has over 200 stilt homes painted with bright colors that mask the wooden structures arranged neatly across the village.

In early June, UUSC joined our partner, the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), on a visit to Chevak, one of the 16 villages that AIJ is working with to develop advocacy strategies to enhance their ability to adapt to a radically changing environment. Our shared vision is to ensure that the human rights of Alaska Native villages are advanced and protected in the face of climate risks.

The primary goal of the visit was to assist the State of Alaska’s Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS) Coastal Hazards Program to install shoreline erosion monitoring equipment. Project Manager Jacquelyn Overbeck describes this work as part of the State’s effort to facilitate community-based monitoring of erosion in areas where minimal or no baseline erosion data exists in rural Alaska. The installation included a community teach-in to discuss the basis of the monitoring and to show villagers how to collect and read data. Chevak is one of the first villages where this work is taking place.

Land erosion is taking place along the bluffs that form the southwestern borders of the village causing land instability for homes and other community structures. Over the years, individual homeowners have placed sandbags and metals to stop the erosion, but this has not been enough. According to some villagers, erosion has been happening since the 1980s but is now happening at a more rapid pace. Without immediate assistance, Chevak could erode away and cause the community to relocate.

But relocation is not an option, nor is it new for Chevak. Chevak Mayor Richard Tuluk states that “This is our third home.” Chevak first moved a few miles inland from their original location along the Bering Sea sometime in the 1930s, where they lived for about ten years. In 1950, they moved to their current location, which is located behind the bluff of the Ninglikfak River. The land that Chevak currently sits on belongs to Hooper Bay. This history pays homage to the nomadic culture of Alaska Natives as natural voyagers.

AIJ’s work with Chevak focuses on implementing community-based monitoring, which is coordinated with state and federal government agencies that can provide information regarding rates of erosion and resources to respond and protect the community. Robin Bronen, the Executive Director of AIJ, states that “Part of what needs to happen, is that communities need to be given the information they need to predict when storms or natural hazards are going to happen, and at the same time monitor the impacts of these disasters in real time and report that back to national and state agencies so that they are aware of what communities are experiencing. With this data, communities will also be able to access financial resources that will help them reduce their hazards and risks.”

Erosion is not the only issue that Chevak is dealing with. Some villagers shared stories of how they were once able to travel across permafrost-laden marshland to access the surrounding volcanic mountains during winter to pick berries, but due to permafrost melting earlier and faster than before, those trips are now becoming impossible to make. Other villagers spoke of finding fewer fish stocks, increasing flood waters during storms and frequent warm weather periods.

Without a governance framework in place to address this multitude of problems, government assistance will be provided on an ad-hoc basis at best, and communities will continue to lack the resources they need. Alaska Native villages will not be the only communities in the nation or the world who must adapt to this accelerating climate crisis. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) reports that in 2016, about 24 million people were displaced by sudden onset hazards in over 118 countries. This figure does not include those that are displaced by slow onset climate impacts, which are difficult to determine. This data is staggering and reflects the enormity of climate induced forced displacement and the importance of a governance framework.

Responding government agencies must partner with communities at risk to determine effective adaptation strategies that ensure the protection of life and property. This also ensures that the processes that take place are transformational, and that they recognize and respect the agency and human dignities of those who are unjustly confronted by our climate crisis.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

Decision to Withdraw from Paris Agreement a “Step Backward”

Despite an enormous outpouring of public support from within the United States and abroad, today the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This action is reckless and irresponsible, but we are not deterred. Together with our partners, UUSC will continue to seek every opportunity to advocate for policies that combat the effects of climate change.

The decision is unsurprising, as Trump made repeated promises to do so during his presidential campaign last fall. However, we are deeply concerned that the United States has chosen to take a path out of line with the goals the entire world agreed to work towards together just two years ago. There are only two countries that did not support the landmark climate deal: Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating civil war and Nicaragua, which thought the Agreement too weak.

Leaving the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step backward and a grave injustice to the rest of the world, particularly to smaller countries in the Global South. The United States has an obligation to protect those that have made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. The Agreement was one way we, as a global community, sought both to assign responsibility where it is due and find solutions to issues that affect us all.

Today’s executive order reaffirms concerns that leadership on issues important to so many across the globe—climate change, economic justice, and human rights overall—can no longer come from the White House. In this moment, it is important to remember that there are individuals, groups, and communities dedicated to resisting policies that roll back our protections and continually working to create a better future in the face of harmful policies.

Our community partners in the South Pacific and Alaska are working to build protections in place to adapt to climate change and to safely relocate with dignity to protect their lives and their families from the harrowing impacts of sea level rise, coastal erosion, melting glaciers and natural disasters. Abandoning our responsibility by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement now is an added insult, as even that Agreement came too late for the many vulnerable communities already living with the realities of climate change.

UUSC will continue to work with and support these groups, finding and capitalizing on opportunities to effect positive change and build a sustainable future wherever possible.

 

UUSC Recommendations for the Global Compact on Migration

On Tuesday, May 23, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke as a respondent at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Speakers at the event identified the many causes of forced migration and improvements for global migration policy, which will be incorporated into the Global Compact on Migration, the first intergovernmentally negotiated UN agreement to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner. 

Read Soqo’s full remarks on climate-forced displacement below.

Thank You, Your Excellency.

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, through our work with some of the most vulnerable communities around the world, and particularly in the South Pacific and in Alaska, recognizes that climate-induced environmental degradation is an obvious driver for human mobility.

In the interest of time, I would like to emphasize four main points based on our experience thus far:

Firstly, it is important for us to acknowledge that the root causes of climate-induced displacement are not climate change per se, but global economic and power inequality. Industrialized countries therefore have an obligation to protect those that are made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. We must assign responsibility to where it is due.

Secondly, there have been previous remarks made by member states to center the global compact on a human-rights centered approach. We concur with this concept and reiterate the recognition that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity—these are Indigenous People, women, children, the elderly and people living with disabilities, and farmers and fishermen whose subsistence and livelihood depend on their natural environments, and those living in remote areas of the world. Their active participation must be mandatory in state responses, their rights must be respected, and means to incentivize and implement community-based climate initiatives must be enabled through this compact. And more to the point of internally displaced populations, states must recognize that they have the obligation to protect their residents within their borders, and this compact should enforce their existing obligations.

Thirdly, building protections in place to protect communities where they are must always remain the priority, and if relocation is a necessity, which is particularly the case for small island developing states where displacement is inevitable for some islands, it must be planned proactively. It is thus important that this global compact work in tandem with the instruments of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the accompanying institutions to enforce adaptation, disaster risk reduction, emergency humanitarian aid, and mandatory mitigation measures, particularly through the extension/renewal of the Doha Agreement, to compliment aspects that are not addressed by these instruments in order for this compact to be of value-add, and to avoid repetition.

Lastly, the compact must recognize that climate change is a multiplier of risks, as stated throughout this session. In some situations, this leads to conflict and violence, which often leads to forced migration. Thus, there is increasing recognition amongst states that climate change is a national security issue, and indeed it is, but it is important that, and in the spirit of unity and moral conscience, that the compact avoids language or measures that further dehumanizes or commodifies climate-forced displaced populations and must intentionally combat xenophobia and other forms of religious, cultural, and social discrimination against migrants.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.