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The Responsibility of the International Community in Situations of Human Mobility Due to Environmental Causes


The Zolberg Institute Working Paper Series is a collection of writing on different topics relating to migration and mobility studies. This paper was written by T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School, Chair, KNOMAD Thematic Working Group on Environmental Change and Migration, and Susan Martin, Donald G. Herzberg Professor Emerita of International Migration, Georgetown University, and published on July 2022.

As intensifying climate impacts and other environmental events are increasingly driving human mobility worldwide, a wide range of international organizations and other actors have put environmental mobility on the global agenda. Yet the international community has failed to produce a comprehensive strategy or structure for addressing issues related to environmental mobility and has struggled to fulfill its responsibilities to prevent, respond to, and provide solutions for displacement. Those responsibilities are anchored in existing commitments of States and flow from the duty of the international community to remedy harms that its members inflict on others.

Four responsibilities may be identified: (1) to reduce the risk of displacement and provide for the orderly movement of those facing displacement; (2) to protect and assist displaced persons, including through the recognition of their rights and adhering to the principle of non-refoulement; (3) to provide durable solutions to displacement; and (4) to develop adequate institutions to meet these responsibilities. Focusing on the responsibilities of the international community and the rights of persons who move (whether voluntarily or not) offers a different approach to environmental mobility, which has generally been viewed as presenting a problem of the “management” of migrant movements.  A comprehensive approach to environmental mobility is a key element in an international strategy of climate action, grounded in accountability and dedicated to pursuing environmental justice.


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