Research progress on climate refugees and the EU

I am currently in Brussels conducting research for my dissertation on Climate Refugees and the European Union (EU) response. It has been inspiring and new ground has been covered. My research question is most likely to be the following: Can the expected increase of climate refugees receive subsidiary protection within the existing legal framework of the European Union? A case study of the Qualification Directive.

Picture of Tuvalu, one of the first Islands likely to submerge due to sea level rise.

Why the qualification directive?

The directive was adopted in 2004 and sets a European minimum standard for receiving refugee status or subsidiary protection in any EU country. The directive will be amended this year or early next year, and the issue of who is eligible for protection will again be up for debate.

This is why finding out whether or not climate refugees (indirectly) already can be protected within the existing framework is very interesting and indeed useful. So far I have found no evidence indicating that climate refugees can receive any form of protection. Most of my attention has focused on the process leading up the adoption of the directive, and it doesn’t seem that the question even was at the agenda back then. I aim to get this hypothesis tested through interviews with some of the key actors from the process.

I will focus mainly on the directive itself, to see if it is possible to interpret concepts such as “serious harm”, “person eligible for subsidiary protection” or “actors of persecution” in a climate refugee setting.

Member states practices

Lastly, I aim to see of there are any cases of refugee recognition or subsidiary protection given to climate, or more generally environmental, refugees in member states. So far I have not found any, but I have received feedback from the Finish government that they have a national action plan in the making, on how to cope with mass influx of environmental refugees. This is sadly not public material though.

I will keep my blog updated with the latest findings and work on my dissertation as I progress. Read my first blog article here and I my overview page with some of my main sources so far.


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