Notes from the Climate Migration Panel

Development, Migration and Climate Change: A Perspective from the South (Raul Delgado Wise)

The vital signs of contemporary capitalism include a precarious labour workforce, growing migration from South to North as well as South to South, asymmetrical growth between countries and increasing social inequality.

This all relies on the new global architecture which includes the internationalisation of production, transnationalisation, increasing precarity, differentiation of labour markets, appropriation of natural resources and environmental degradation.

We currently face a multidimensional crisis, with most force in countries of the south. The tools of this include the mechanism of structural adjustment, and a new international division of work. As workers migrate from south to north, new models of unequal exchange are create in which migration acts as another transfer to the north.

New waves of immigration are happening as a result of processes of expulsion, triggered by the dismantling of productive apparatus in the south. Included in this has been increased restrictions of movement and criminalisation of the migrant work force, who are continuously subjected to new conditions and are positioned as public and social enemies.

The agenda of the north requires that these costs of migration are made invisible and it is necessary to our work that we visibilise them.

Migrant workers inherently contribute to development in the north. With the US-Mexico example, there is the satisfaction of a genuine labour demand. It is estimated that 1 in every 6 work posts created in the US have been occupied by a Mexican in the era of free trade agreements. This results in a contribution to the economic growth of the country that they have moved to, the US. Between 1999 and 2008, the transference of Mexico to the US for the concept of social reproduction (educative and life) was $343 million, which is almost double the remittances sent by migrants to their home countries.

So who is subsidising who? It becomes apparent that migrants are being used for the development of the north.

In an era of environmental neo-liberalism, facing the causes of climate change isn’t in the agenda of the north, which can be exemplified by what happened in Copenhagen. The effects on the most vulnerable populations are also ignored. Therefore, the relation between migration and climate change needs to be contextualised in the mark of the asymmetrical relations between the north and the south.

The relationship between migration and climate change is mediated. While the vision of the north is that displacement as a result of climate change is a risk to public security, southern perspectives focus on development, reciprocity, free movement and defence of the environment.

The issue is becoming increasingly politicised and it is estimated that there will be 25-100 million climate migrants by 2050.

Under neo-liberal globalisation the movement of humans of the south is framed every time as one of free choice, therefore we need to progress more of a theme of forced displacement. The current unequal interchange benefits the north. Private appropriation of natural resources accelerates processes that are destroying the environment. Parasitical capitalist development is a capitalist sickness. There needs to be a vision of social transformation, with a new global architecture, that reduces asymmetry between countries.

Colin Rajah (Coordinator of the International Migrant Rights Program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, NNIRR)

Climate change has caused displacement of millions of people. It is estimated that 30-50 million have already been displaced. By 2050, between 200-250 million will be displaced.

Scientists refer to displacement as being caused first by rapid changes; such as big storms, floods, and hurricanes. Secondly, slow changes such as drought, desertification, lack of water and food.

Thirdly the rise of water levels.

There are very particular impacts on small islands and delta regions, for example the Maldives Islands are particularly affected. It is estimated that a 1 metre rise in sea levels will wipe out 80% of Maldives, and also wipe out about 20% of Bangladesh, this being in the most heavily populated areas of Bangladesh.

It is not only these conditions that bring about displacement. Some of the solutions proposed by governments are also causing these displacements, for example reforestation projects (REDD) and carbon trading projects.

It is not enough just to look at these conditions, we need to also look at the structural problems that cause these problems in order to start to make changes.

We think there are three main structural problems:

One – globalisation, the global economy and carbon intensive economic development. Accumulation happening in global north is at the expense of the destruction of the global south.

More and more trade agreements and economic partnerships between countries are causing these problems. In reality there is very little difference between a climate refugee and an economic refugee because both are victims of the same economic system.

Second – border control policies and criminalisation of migrants is very politicised. Last week in Arizona the state government passed one of most anti-immigrant laws in the country. If you have the wrong skin colour, if you are brown skinned for example, and if you left you wallet at home with your documents, you are considered a criminal. All the police departments are required to stop and check each person that they even think might be breaking the immigration law.

Even environmental problems are being blamed on immigrants. Severe restriction has created a repressive system and caused the deaths of thousands of people.

Third – relatively new terminology called “managed migration”. This basically says we need to control the flow of migration according to the economy. For example, in Canada they bring in nurses and home care workers from Caribbean countries who are allowed to work for a specific number of years and then they are forced to return. A lot of these workers have very little protections. What has resulted is a situation where we have created a class of disposal workers, workers that can be disposed when the economy no longer needs or wants them. Managed migration has become a strong policy and framework.

In Bamako, Mali, the EU has created a managed migration centre at the cost of 10 million Euro. This is to control the flow of not just people from Mali, but all over West Africa. They are controlled according to what the economic demands of Europe are. When they don’t have the correct skills or meet the correct requirements, they are prevented from moving. So the immigrant worker has become a commodity, and this system has also been exploited by some governments in the global south. For example, the Philippines has a system called the ‘labour exportation programme’. By exporting their own people they create enormous wealth for the country. In fact, the exportation of Filipino workers is the second highest income for the country. These three structural problems create the system where people are exploited, as migrant workers, for the global economy. The same system that creates the displacement in their home countries.

Proposed solutions

Firstly we need protections for migrants based on human rights. This does not address the structural problems, but when you are bleeding you need to immediately put a band aid on it.

The second thing is that we need reparations and repayment from the countries causing this displacement. These repayments must go towards sustainable development of the communities that have been displaced.

Thirdly, we need migration based on human rights and families, not migration based on economic demands of countries and big companies.

Finally, we need the protection of lands and mother earth. We need to allow real community based sustainable development because no matter how much we try to negotiate policies between governments, if we don’t address the structural development problems, we will never change what is happening before it is too late.

We are entering an ecological age. The question for us is are we going to be an ecology that is going to be wealthy and diverse and rich, or is it an ecology based on exploitation and destruction.

One comment

  1. […] 26th April April 27, 2010 Here are a few things we want to share. First the documents from our panel discussion, not ours but the other people who presented. It’s quite detailed but will hopefully be […]

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