Climate change could exacerbate drug smuggling and human trafficking

Former Bangladesh Foreign Minister predicts soaring crime rates as impacts of global warming hit countries

Source: United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti

Source: United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti

By Sophie Yeo

Climate change will cause an increase in drug smuggling, human trafficking and gun running, as “merchants of gloom” take advantage of desperate migrants fleeing across borders.

This is the view Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary from 2009 to 2012.

If sea levels rise, rainfall becomes more unpredictable and harvests fail in countries acutely vulnerable to changing climatic conditions, he predicts a rise in crime as more and more people seek to cross borders into neighbouring states.

Migration due to climate change could cause problems to state security as criminals take advantage of desperate migrants who are competing for healthcare, education and other resources in already overpopulated countries.

“Security does not mean conflict,” he told RTCC. “The moment you transport a person, there is a security issue. Are you having drugs moving across your border? Are you trafficking a human person? Are you doing gun running? It would have a serious security context for the states involved.”

Legal protection

The absence of any legal recognition for climate migrants makes such a situation appear all the more likely. The 1951 Refugee Convention contains no protection for those who have been displaced due to climate change.

In November last year, a man from the low lying Pacific island state of Kiribati lost his bid in a New Zealand court to become the world’s first official climate refugee. “Without state support, the problem risks going underground,” says Quayes.

As the problem of climate change worsens, the number of people looking to leave their homes will increase. Today, the UN predicts there are a total of 214 million migrants across the world, including those who have moved for social and political reasons.

report by Christian Aid predicts that a further one billion people could become climate change migrants between now and 2050. Some of the movement will be seasonal, as people move from certain regions in the dry season or times of excessive rainfall.

Quayes said that leaders will fail to provide legal protection to the millions forced to flee their homes due to climate change if they continue to view the problem as merely a humanitarian crisis.

“People respond better when they see that an issue will impact security,” he said. “Climate induced displacement needs to be seen from the perspective of security so people see a need to act.”

Opportunity or threat

At a panel discussion at the Overseas Development Institute in London yesterday, experts discussed how to address the problem of climate change migration.

Dominic Kniveton, an expert on climate change migration at the University of Sussex, stressed that migration could be seen as a legitimate means of adaptation. He said it could be seen as “an option, not a threat” as families choose to leave their homes in response to the more incremental onset of some of the impacts of climate change.

“We’re looking at migration as a solution rather than as something that makes you a victim,” he said, adding that for some it could be one way of moving out of poverty. “It’s not a sign that you’ve failed – it’s an sign of a possible route out of increased stress.”

Alex Randall from the Climate Outreach and Information Network said that there needed to be a conversation about the legal, moral and policy questions that arise from seeing migration as a means of adaptation.

“Migration can and, perhaps in the future, should be a positive way for people to adapt to some of the worse impacts of climate change,” he said.

“At the moment it’s very much framed as always being a tragedy, always being something that makes someone into a victim. That is often the case. When people are forced from their home during a disaster, certainly we need to be careful we don’t see that as a way of adapting. Clearly, that’s a maladaptation if you like.”

Quayes stressed that, for many, the question was now of forced displacement, rather than a choice to move away. He recalls a conversation with the now EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard at the UN’s disastrous 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, when it was beginning to dawn on everyone that a legally binding climate deal was impossible.

“She was feeling let down, and she was asking what it all meant. As I sat there in Copenhagen, in the shades of Elsinore, I felt like Hamlet: to be or not to be? For us, that is the question. That is the question for the Maldives, for Vanuatu. It isn’t just a question of migration.”

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