A mural reading "refugees welcome"

A coalition of 80 civil society groups specialising in climate and migration have called on the leaders of political parties in the UK to take act on migration and displacement linked to the climate crisis. The coalition – which includes the likes of Greenpeace UK and War on Want – has called for an approach which gives people the ‘right to move’ and the ‘right to stay’ in an open letter.

As part of their calls, campaigners have said they want to see support within the UK and overseas for more resilient communities that can withstand disruption caused by climate breakdown and the creation of safe migration routes before disasters hit.

The letter calls for UK leaders to ensure legal rights for people on the move, providing climate finance for adaptation and loss and damage, and a fair and equitable phase out of fossil fuels.

Mary Atkinson, campaigns and networks manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “We have a choice as to how we respond to climate-linked migration and displacement. No country is unaffected and whilst most people relocating do so within their own countries, some need to cross borders too.” 

“Governments can impose chaos and misery with a hostile environment approach, using resources that could be helping rather than harming and funnelling more public money into a multi-billion border industry that profits from harm.”

“Or we can support both the right to move and the right to stay. As well as decarbonising rapidly and defending communities against climate impacts, it’s time to invest in ensuring movement is planned, safe, and opportunities and structures exist to ensure that both migrants and host communities reap the benefits.” 

The full letter reads as follows:

Dear UK Party Leaders,

Climate change has no borders, so governments have a global responsibility to keep communities safe from its consequences and protected when they need to move.

This year saw the hottest month in 100,000 years, followed immediately after by extreme floods and storms. Here in the UK and across the world, floods, droughts, extreme weather, bad harvests, and altered ecosystems are changing how and where we live. We must slash our use of fossil fuels – and overturn the systems of extraction, exploitation and oppression fuelling this crisis. But this alone won’t stop disruption happening. We must also act now to protect people in the UK and around the world from the worst consequences of climate change.

Right now, people are deciding to move – mostly within their countries, but sometimes across borders. Their journeys are often dangerous, with people making journeys across harsh environments, through unsafe places, and unable to reach sanctuary. Powerful countries often worsen their journeys with the weapons and walls of violent border regimes, using resources that could be helping rather than harming – the border industry was worth $68bn USD in 2020  and is fast growing. In these insecure conditions, people can become even more vulnerable to exploitation and modern slavery.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With support and organisation, we can ensure that more people can stay in their homes and communities, can move without facing further danger, and can access support during an emergency. We can ensure that all of us have real choices in how they adapt to climate emergencies – rather than having to wait for disaster to strike. 

As COP28 unfolds, we are calling on UK Leaders to recognise how climate change is impacting people’s lives and work to protect them through: 

  1. Recognising migration as a form of climate adaptation, and avoiding the use of the “hostile environment” and harsher border policies in response to humanitarian emergencies.
  2. Committing to supporting both the right to stay and the right to move, both at home and overseas; through providing resources for communities to manage climate impacts, through providing safe pathways to at-risk communities, and through immediate support in emergencies.  
  3. Working within existing international processes and frameworks on climate and displacement to ensure that all nations play their part – especially the largest polluters. 
  4. Commit to a fair and equitable phase out of fossil fuels.
  5. Including the voices of migrants and refugees in the development of national action plans on climate change. 

People have always moved in search of better lives throughout history – the choice is not whether we prevent it from happening. Either we can remain on the current course, where migration is unsafe, unpredictable, and driven by emergencies. Or we can invest in ensuring movement is planned, safe, and opportunities and structures exist to ensure that both migrants and host communities reap the benefits. 

Climate change and its impacts are a common challenge for all of us to solve together. But our people and our country are equipped with the values and the capability to rise to that challenge, not only protecting each other, but building a better society for all.

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Image credit: duncan c – Creative Commons