Not much protection for climate refugees in the EU

The work on my dissertation on Climate Refugees and the EU response is progressing. Last week I worked mostly with the official documents from the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Qualifications Directive. The most interesting thing has been to see how some member states have actively worked against making a directive that would also give some rights of protection to people fleeing from natural disasters. The European Parliament opinion also seemed to have been partly ignored.

Climate Refugees

In an explanatory note from the presidency (20/09/02) regarding article 15 entitled ‘serious harm’, which formulates the basis of how people can receive subsidiary (complementary) protection from a member state, I found this quote from the chair of the negotiations: “By using the wording “acts or treatment” it is ensured that only man-made situations, and not for instance situations arising natural disasters or situations of famine, will lead to the granting of subsidiary protection.”  

As far as I can tell, this also resulted in recital 26 in the final directive: “Risks to which a population of a country or a section of the population is generally exposed do normally not create in themselves an individual threat which would qualify as serious harm.” Therefore, it seems clear that the policy makers, in this case the member states, wanted a narrow protection regime not granting people fleeing from natural disasters, such as floods or droughts, protection under the Qualification Directive.

The European Parliament sidelined by the Council?

The Greens MEP Jean Lambert, who was the European Parliament‘s Rapporteur  on the issue in 2002, confirmed this interpretation of the negotiations in the Council today. Lambert, a staunch and renowned supporter of a more humanitarian protection regime in the EU, said to me during the interview that: “It became crystal clear that it was no point of pushing the agenda for (environmental refugees), there was no majority… We had enough with keeping humanitarian protection in there along with asylum. That was the real battle”. It seemed one of the challenges was the lack of co-decision procedure used in the area, which would have given the Parliament an equal say in the negotiations. Lambert said the Council could just “put the EP opinion on shelf and not do anything about it.” However, Lambert also added that co-decision may also have led to much more struggles in the Parliament, as the majority party (EPP) does not support a widening of the scope of protection at the European level.

Jean Lambert

It is hard to see how many, if any, of the 88 amendments proposed by the Parliament was included by the chair of the Council. The Report from the EP came late into what seems as very heated debates between the member states on a number of the key issues. For example, the Council had already more or less finished their negotiations and seriously restricted the scope of Article 15, when the EP-report was published on 8th of October 2002.

The only actor to mention environmental refugees in the process

The EP appears to have been the only institution/actor that brought up the issue of refugees fleeing from various forms of environmental degradation and disasters. They wrote in the their report of 8.10.02: “Equally, while current definitions of asylum seekers deal only with those suffering persecution, or the fear of it, at the hands of human agents, we are ignoring the growing number of people who are forced to leave their homes due to poverty and environmental degradation. These people equally need protection and there is an urgent need to devise the appropriate instruments and policies of prevention. Maybe that should provide step 2 of a Common European Asylum Policy.” The comment did not encourage the Council to regard environmental refugees in the Qualification Directive at the time. It will be interesting to see whether they will follow up on this in the amendment of Article 15 later this year.

I will now move on and analyze the academic debate on the issue and I will hopefully have some interesting results on the end of this week. As always, feel free to contribute if you have knowledge or questions. I still have a few weeks left before I have to finish researching. You can also read more on my climate refugee page, where I list most of my sources.


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