From economic refugees to climate refugees?

Foster suggests that there is an assumption implicit in the distinction drawn between economic migrants and economic refugees that the latter are seeking to fraudulently claim asylum and are thereby manipulating the rules governing domestic immigration. This binary distinction between economic migrants and so-called ‘genuine’ refugees is a false one. Indeed, a strength of Foster’s book is showing that the complexity of why people move means that placing people into one dichotomous category or another is erroneous. This is highlighted by the phenomenon of climate-induced displacement, which is the focus of my current research. In light of the symposium topic of this edition of the Melbourne Journal of International Law climate justice and international environmental law I have been asked to reflect upon and extend Foster’s analysis of socioeconomic displacement with respect to movement induced by climate change. It has been said that within the next 50 years, small island states such as Australia’s Pacific neighbours, Tuvalu and Kiribati, will disappear altogether as a result of rising sea levels attributable to climate change. There are projections that areas in Africa will become even more drought-prone, and that coastal parts of Asia will flood more extensively and more regularly than in the past. Yet, the degree to which it can be said that an ‘increasing number of people [are] displaced as a direct result of climate change’ remains controversial. Whereas traditional figures (based on a very rudimentary methodology and yet, absent more rigorous data, have provided the benchmark) have suggested that up to 250 million people could be displaced by the middle of this century as a result of climate change, more recent analyses suggest that while many people will suffer adversely from the impacts of climate change, displacement will likely be internal and temporary. Furthermore, as is explored below, substantiating a direct causal link between climate change and movement may be very difficult

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