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Posts Tagged ‘climate refugee’

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Photo: Jason Margolis/PRI’s The World 
The Refuge Coffee Shop in Clarkston, Georgia, a town that has been welcoming to refugees, with a mayor who recognizes root causes of mass migration and aims to do his part.

More and more people are recognizing that the mass migrations we’re seeing today — and the wars that seem to be the main cause — are tied to climate change.

Here is a story about a small city in Georgia, home to many immigrants, that has put two and two together and is determined to be part of the solution.

Writes Jason Margolis at Public Radio International’s show The World, “Clarkston, Georgia, is often referred to as the Ellis Island of the South. Some 60 languages are spoken in this city of 13,000 just outside of Atlanta, and perhaps half the population is foreign born. Many are refugees.

“Felix Hategekimana is a refugee from Rwanda, a soft-spoken man who doesn’t talk much about his backstory, except to say that he fled violence back home: ‘We have political issues and security [issues].’

“But Hategekimana says there’s more to the troubles in Rwanda. Droughts and floods have plagued his country in recent years, and that’s led to more people migrating.

“ ‘Some people lose life in the disaster of the rain,’ Hategekimana said. ‘Some people lose life, others lose their homes and they lose their property, like their farms where they plant their vegetables.’

“You hear a lot of stories like this from refugees in Clarkston. Legally, there’s no such thing as a ‘climate change refugee.’ Refugee status is only awarded based on a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group — not because your home got wiped out by a flood, or your crops were destroyed by a drought.

“But Clarkston’s mayor, Ted Terry, says the impacts of more extreme weather are woven throughout the lives of many new residents here. …

“Climate scientists agree that storms are becoming more severe, and the trend is only going to continue. Case in point, the Category 4 cyclone that struck southern Africa recently has left at least 600,000 people displaced. The immediate needs there — food, clean drinking water and shelter — are stark. After that, a big question: rebuild or relocate?

“It’s a dilemma that many people across the globe are facing, which will inevitably lead to more people on the move. But the world still hasn’t agreed on what to do with so-called climate refugees. Take a place like Syria.

“ ‘It becomes more drier, I think,’ said Malk Alarmash, a Syrian refugee now living in Clarkston. … But Alarmash can’t say that a lack of rainfall led people to flee Syria.

“ ‘I don’t know. I don’t have any information about that, like climate change,’ Alarmash said.

“An inability to pin the seeds of conflict on climatic shifts isn’t unusual; the relationship between climate change and forced migration is immensely complicated. … A drought can destroy people’s food supplies and livelihoods. That can lead to internal migration, inflame tensions and maybe even contribute to conflict and a refugee crisis. But all of this can unfold over years. …

“ ‘The climate is the last thing in their mind. They know it’s all related, but they just say, “This is from God,” ‘ said Omar Shekhey, a Clarkston resident who is originally from Somalia. …  ‘It goes together — the civil war, the war and the climate, you cannot separate them.’ …

“Shekhey says most Somali refugees aren’t connecting the dots to climate change. But as global temperatures continue to rise, Mayor Terry, who also works with the Sierra Club, believes that those dots will become clearer, even in the US.

“ ‘We’re looking at a future, I think, if we don’t take steps to reverse global warming, we’re looking at potentially hundreds of millions of people around the world, including you know, in America, Louisiana. Their coastline is disappearing,’ Terry said. ‘And so, at some point, there has to be some sort of recognition and define what it means to be a climate refugee.’ …

“Clarkston’s mayor [wants] to address the root of the problem, starting in his own community. It’s one reason Clarkston is committing to 100 percent renewable energy — instead of fossil fuels — by midcentury.

“ ‘In some way, we’re trying to alleviate future calamities. We just have to do our part; we have to consider ourselves part of the global community.’ ”

More at PRI, here.

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