Re-posted from Medium, written by the Tipping Point Collective
As climate justice activists, we know that our movement is deeply connected with others such as those for gender, race, and migration (to name a few). But how do we, in our fight for the climate, show solidarity with these movements and adapt our narrative so that we are allies in their fights for system change?
Check out this fantastic piece from our friends at the Tipping Point Collective on the struggle for migrants’ rights, the climate movement, and what we can do to be supporters through our discourse and actions.
It is sadly telling of the times we live in that we must begin with these axiomatic words: migration is not bad. It seems insulting even to say, but because we live in Europe and North America where headlines, even elections, are heavy with alarming levels of anti-migration rhetoric, we need to remind ourselves of such rudimentary facts on a daily basis. Xenophobic fear is a tool put to use by the elites; it serves them well to get the face of anti-migrant sentiment to be working class people whose legitimate insecurities have been misdirected towards the Other. (When in fact most “ordinary people” have been, unlike their leaders, showing some humanity).
The media say migration is bad. People call in to radio shows and talk in pubs about how migration (and therefore migrants) is a problem. David Cameron calls the migrants at Calais a “swarm”. The facts hidden beneath spiteful rhetoric and media bias are so: migrants are some of the strongest, most resilient people of their communities, and they give a lot more to their host country than they take. In economic terms, migrants bring money into a country, pay taxes, send money home, do the jobs you don’t want to or can’t do, and are, far more than billionaires, job creators. Finally, their contribution to the cultural diversity of host countries is beyond measure.
The truth of the matter is this: migration is a complex, natural, and old phenomenon. Human history is predominantly a story of movement and hybridity of people intermingling, conquering, fleeing one another? Whatever country you’re from, it was formed through synthesis not stasis.
Though complex, the root causes of migration are both historical and current injustices. People by and large do not want to leave their homes, loved ones, ways of life, and cultures in order to suffer horrific journeys across desert and sea only to become subject to hostility, racism, and scapegoating once they enter Europe. But they are forced to, by many compounding, interlinked and not always obvious reasons, both “push” and “pull” — including conflict, political or religious persecution, development projects, dictatorships, poverty, and climate change. It comes as no surprise that those countries whose wealth has been plundered and whose freedom has been trampled by colonial powers over the last centuries have difficulty fostering a sustainable future (or present) for their citizenry. Until reparations for the damages done by colonization are made by those countries who benefited from it, there will be an imbalance that drives movement. After all, the promise of globalization was one of movement: of goods, capital, and people. We can’t have second thoughts about one but not the others.
In a recent news segment, an Algerian in Calais laid bare the modern day repercussions of historical injustice in frank terms: “We are here because you were there,” he said, pointing out decades of illegal French occupation in his native country and a viciously fought war for liberation from the so-called inventors of democracy. This slogan has been used for decades to assert the rights of colonized bodies in colonizing places, asserting that the struggle against colonization is at the root of migrant rights activism.
Similarly to the climate crisis, the “migration crisis” is not being addressed systematically and justly by those who caused it in the first place. While the newsreels run pictures of desperation in Calais, bodies being fished from the Med, and European detention centres, the primary location of all migration is in fact the global South. As this Irish Times piece points out about people fleeing (largely European-initiated/fuelled) conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, “European responses to these humanitarian catastrophes have been fitful, ungenerous and incoherent compared to the burden borne by immediate neighbours. The rank order for hosting refugees lists Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan and Ethiopia — all well ahead of European states.” Facing challenges of their own as States, many developing countries are forced to clean up and pay for a mess that isn’t theirs. Does that remind you of anything, climate campaigners? In what other areas have you seen such blatant shifting of responsibility from North to South?
At the UN, where injustice is institutionalised under a facade of diplomacy, climate justice groups have at times taken up demands around the rights of people impacted or displaced by climate change. These are natural concerns for justice-based activism, but quickly turn problematic when translated into specific political/policy demands. We often find ourselves talking about “climate refugees”, for example, and demanding legal recognition for their specific circumstances within refugee law — possibly by amending the 1951 Geneva Convention, the way the 1967 Protocol removed the initial temporal and geographic restriction of the Convention, or making an entirely new climate refugee treaty. Ignoring for a moment the massive difficulty involved in either of those options, they both risk a lot, and could work against the limited progress previously gained. Opening the Convention in an attempt to account for climatic displacement could (nay, would) lead to further backsliding of States current legal obligations to care for refugees. By nature it would also do nothing to change the current framing of migrants as falling into categories of either deserving “refugees” or suspect “economic migrants”. As climate justice activists we do not accept such a framing and refuse to say that climate change displacement is a more important or deserving category than others. People who migrate because of poverty are, as much as “climate refugees”, fleeing a form of violence which is carried out along North-South, race, gender, (dis)ability, and class lines. Beyond this, a problem lies in the reality that many people do not identify as climate migrants/refugees. Climate induced migration is seldom the romantic image of water gradually coming up around people’s ankles until they must flee. Rather, as rural livelihoods are made too difficult or impossible because of soil acidification or messed up local fisheries, people are forced to migrate — usually internally to a metropole — as an economic choice. Then, once they cross an international border, they fall into one of the most categorically neglected groups of migrants around the world: economic migrants.
Rather than trying to create new legal categories of climate migrants that will be ignored, we need to address the exploitation of migrant labour and the vilification and criminalisation of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. Clearly we need to address the root of the issue, which is not a problem of border security but of systemic oppression and inequity. As Anders Lustgarten recently wrote in a piece titled Refugees don’t need our tears, they need us to stop making them refugees, “The single biggest thing we could do to stop migration is to abolish the development mafia: the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Investment Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. A very close second is to stop bombing the Middle East”.
Reforming or dismantling the international financial institutions, the military industrial complex, and their underpinning ideology is going to take some time and doing. So more immediately, what else can the climate justice movements do?
- show up for migrant rights groups in a supportive role at their direct actions and in their campaigns to stop (illegal) deportation, close detention centres, and demand basic rights
- support the legal struggles of migrant rights groups by holding States accountable to existing laws and by creating safer cities and communities for undocumented people — as does the sanctuary city initiative, which makes public services accessible to undocumented people without fear of arrest and deportation
- provide cover when necessary — for example when marching in Paris during the climate negotiations this December, think twice about showing your papers to French police, who have already been using COP21 as an excuse for urban cleansing. Will showing them your US or EU passport increase your security and drastically endanger anyone who is or may be paperless?
- change our narratives as movements: if we want to talk about climate change and migration we must talk about racism, and in doing so we must talk about capitalism and patriarchy. Always, we must talk about responsibility. In the context of climate change, that means accepting and upholding historical responsibility as a legal and moral principle.
- demand our governments do their fair share of emissions reductions. Note that this doesn’t mean only asking your government to do something more than they have previously promised, it means demanding them to do enough to stop climate change in its tracks. It means demanding they provide the necessary finance and technology to countries in the global South, so communities can adapt to existing climate change. Where limits of adaptation are breached, and losses and damages are suffered, it means demanding compensation
When you see rickety boats sinking off the Italian coast, hear about people crammed by the dozen in the backs of lorries, or talk about detention centres and deportation, it should be clear there is a crisis. But the crisis is not migration.
A very incomplete list of groups to check out and support
- Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (asrc.org.au/)
- Love Makes a Way (facebook.com/LoveMakesAWayForAsylumSeekers)
- Refugee Action Coalition (refugeeaction.org.au/)
- RISE (riserefugee.org)
- CACI (caci-bc.org)
- Justice for Migrant Workers (justicia4migrantworkers.org/)
- No One is Illegal (nooneisillegal.org/)
- La Cimade (lacimade.org/)
- Norwegian Refugee Council (nrc.no/)
- Freedom From Torture (freedomfromtorture.org)
- No Borders (noborders.org.uk/)
- Refugee Action (refugee-action.org.uk)
- Right to Remain (righttoremain.org.uk/)
- Student Action for Refugees (star-network.org.uk)
- Women for Refugee Women (refugeewomen.co.uk/)
- Coalition of Immokalee Workers (ciw-online.org)
- Colibri Centre for Human Rights (colibricenter.org/)
- Justicia Migrante/Migrant Justice (facebook.com/migrantjustice)
- Migrant Power Movement (facebook.com/DreamActivistPennsylvania)
- National Day Laborer Organising Network (ndlon.org/en)
- National Immigrant Youth Alliance (theniya.org/)
- National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights – (nnirr.org/drupal)
- No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes (nomoredeaths.org/en)
- Not1More (notonemoredeportation.com)
- Puente Human Rights Movement (puenteaz.org)