Kenya joins push for law to protect climate change refugees

Wednesday May 21 2014

Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu. PHOTO/FILE

Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu. PHOTO/FILE 

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Kenya is among Horn of Africa countries pushing for the recognition of populations made refugees by natural disasters.

The third regional consultative meeting on cross-border displacement in the region kicked off in Nairobi yesterday seeking to recognise ‘environmental refugees’ who currently have no legal backing in international refugee law.

Similar efforts have been instituted in the South Pacific and Central America seeking to make climate change victims eligible for protection as refugees.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment Judi Wakhungu said there was a need for regional and international efforts to deal with the cross border movement especially in light of the challenges of global warming.

“I am made to understand that there is a gap because people moving across borders because of natural disasters are not likely to qualify for refugee status because environmental reasons are not recognised as grounds to attain refugee status,” the minister said in a statement read by Environment Secretary Alice Akinyi.

The CS said there a need for a legal basis in international refugee law to tackle the serious issues that could no longer be ignored.

Prof Wakhungu called on countries to formulate strategies to address the issue and find solutions to problems faced by those displaced as a result of environmental disasters.

Swiss ambassador George Martin said that while conflict continued to be the leading cause of people fleeing their countries, natural disaster-induced displacement was fast overtaking it, more so as a result of global warming.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2011 data, 290,000 Somalis were displaced to Kenya and Ethiopia by famine and ongoing conflict while 1.3 million were internally displaced.