As the planet warms, Canada faces an influx of climate refugees

This story is original featured on The National Observer of Canada which is part of Climate office cooperation.

As droughts, degraded farmland and rising sea levels push people around the world from their homes, advocates in Canada are calling on the federal government to support those who are – and will be – displaced by the climate crisis.

In August, the Canadian Climate Action Network (CAN-Rac), a body of more than 100 environmental groups across the country, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser asking them to grant permanent residence to all 1.7 million immigrants. Canada, including half a million undocumented people. Caroline Brouillette, director of national policy at CAN-Rac, explained that this “regulation” process is fundamental to climate justice.

“Fighting the climate crisis is not just about reducing our emissions, it’s about how we care about each other – that’s why we’re asking,” she said.

Syed Hussain, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), which worked with CAN-Rac to send the message, said climate change is already a factor driving people to migrate to Canada. But while climate migrants come to the country as workers, students or refugees, “they may not even be able to describe their experiences that have resulted from climate change.”

He said that many migrants’ understanding of climate change is that it causes poverty.

“Climate change is closely linked to economic decline,” Hussain explained.

Take farmers, for example. He said soil degradation is one of the biggest impacts of climate change. Poor soil means poor harvests, forcing farmers to move to towns and cities to find work. But he added that many fail to find jobs in major urban centers, leaving them with no choice but to leave their home country and seek opportunities in Canada.

Besides poor crops, water scarcity and rising sea levels are among the main factors that the World Bank projects will force 216 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050. This estimate does not include people in Europe and North and Central America. Eastern countries or small island developing states such as Barbados or Kiribati.

“For a lot of people, the only option is to come here with some sort of temporary permit,” Hussain said.

Once in Canada, many still face great difficulties – which is why MWAC is calling on all immigrants, including temporary foreign workers, to obtain permanent residence. “A person who does not have permanent residence or citizenship does not have equal rights in Canada,” Hussain said.

A recent example is a group of Jamaican immigrant farm workers in Ontario who wrote an open letter to Jamaican Labor Minister Carl Samuda earlier last month saying they were suffering from “systematic servitude,” under very poor working conditions that included overcrowded housing, exposure to for dangerous pesticides. and verbally abusive employers.

Hussain said MWCA plans to propose a “permanent settlement program” for the federal government in the future, but he did not say exactly what this would look like, other than that it would allow “everyone in the country to have the same immigration status and the same rights.”

Create new migration paths

Meanwhile, some groups are calling for the government to make climate change a viable reason for immigrants to obtain permanent residence in Canada. Last year, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers (CARL) published a report outlining several options the federal government could make.

It’s not worthwhile for climate immigrants to come to Canada as refugees, said Rachel Price, an attorney involved in Landing Act and co-chair of CARL. Under Canadian law, refugees are strictly defined as people outside their home country who have a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, social group, or political opinions.

CARL wants Canada to allow climate immigrants to obtain status under protected persons legislation. This is available to people who are already in Canada who do not qualify as refugees but will face significant risks if they return to their home country.

Adding climate migrants to the category of protected persons would pave the way to obtaining permanent residence if the person could demonstrate that their homeland is no longer safe due to the effects of climate change. Price said that while a climate change category would require “protected people” to change the law, it would also be possible to amend the Immigration and Refugee Act to allow climate migrants to stay on humane and compassionate grounds.

Brouillette said Canada is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and one of the largest producers of fossil fuels in the world, and it has a responsibility to bear the climate crisis. CAN-Rac also stressed the importance of Canada taking action to reduce its emissions.

“It’s about Canada doing its fair share of the global effort to limit warming to 1.5 degrees and taking responsibility for our disproportionate contribution to the crisis,” Brouillette said.

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