Migrant justice

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A migrant is "a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons. The term includes a number of well-defined legal categories of people." -International Organization for Migration

Migrant justice is "a movement that calls for an end to displacement, detainment, and deportations; the fight for immigration status for all migrants, refugees, students, workers, and undocumented people." -Radical Action With Migrants in Agriculture & Migrant Rights Network, adapted by Michelle Xie [1]

Examples of people who would be defined as migrants

Migrant workers

  • In 2021, Canada had 777,000 workers on temporary work permits. [2]
  • Migrant workers are typically paid low wages, and are not provided with adequate living conditions. They perform labour in sectors that Canadian citizens are less inclined to fill based on poor working conditions (i.e. agriculture, accommodation and food services, administrative and waste management and remediation services). [3]

Refugees

  • Refugees may be smuggled into another country to flee unsafe living conditions.
  • For example, due to restrictions on immigration at the Mexican border, even those fleeing dire conditions are detained when caught at the U.S. border.
International students
  • Canada accepted 621,565 international students in 2021.
  • International students pay significantly higher tuition fees to study, plus face restrictions on the amount of labour they can provide to meet the cost (no more than 20 hours per week). [4]
Internal migrants
  • Sometimes, communities are forced to migrate within borders. An example in Canada is the city of Yellowknife, where 20,000 people were forced to evacuate due to forest fires. [5]

Migrant justice is a climate justice issue

Climate change is increasing the frequency of migration [6]

  • Rapid onset disasters have, and continue to, increase in frequency and severity from the climate crisis. Hurricanes, flash floodings and forest fires usually leave little or no time for affected communities to plan their migration to a safer place. They have to leave for their immediate survival; they have no choice. 
  • Slow onset disasters made worse from the climate crisis, like desertification, sea level rise, change in rainfall patterns etc. have long-term effects on the livelihoods and life quality of communities. In these cases, people are forced to migrate to find better living conditions elsewhere.
Further marginalization of oppressed communities upon forced migration
  • For example, forest fires in Yellowknife, Canada in 2023 forced over 20,000 people to evacuate. Houseless people were not included in evacuation plans. People were ordered to leave, but many did not have access to vehicles. Thousands of people, with a high proportion being Indigenous, were forced to wait for flights and were not told where they were being evacuated to. The cost of 2-hour flights rose to nearly $5000, when they normally sit at around $300, and should have been free to evacuate residents. People living in poverty and racialized people became further marginalized.
The right to migrate
  • Discriminatory immigration policies based on criteria, such as education, language, work ability and more, must withdrawn from current immigration systems. "Status for all" demands permanent status to all newcomers in any given country, and to all migrants who are waiting for their status or simply not registered in their host country. [7]  
  • Migrant justice movements ask for the countries who contributed the most to climate change to welcome climate migrants with inclusive policies. These countries should also support financially the countries most affected by climate change to improve their adaptative capacity, rather than leaving migrants with no safe options. [8]

Access to work and social services

  • Due to a lack of migration strategies in most affected countries and cities, migrants rarely receive proper assistance. Migrants are also at risk of facing social and environmental injustices in their new community. [9]
  • Leaving their way of life behind, climate migrants have less employment options in their new city. Migrants are at high risk of poverty, houselessness and food insecurity. [10]
The right to self-determination
  • Many communities affected by climate change want the option to stay in the place they call home or, if they are forced to leave, the option to return eventually. It is mandatory not to exceed the 1.5 °C threshold to limit the impacts of the climate crisis, which force people to leave their homes. [11]

Success story: Mongla, Bangladesh [12]

The city of Mongla in Bangladesh is a great example of an inclusive welcoming for climate migrants. The city offers a job to all newcomers and is working actively to integrate them in schools and universities. This has improved the integration of migrants in their new community. New climate-resilient infrastructures was also built to improve the adaptative capacity of the city, and to protect the population. 


A special thanks to Laury Ouellet for their tremendous support compiling content for this page.

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to kenzie@lehub.ca.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


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  1. https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1HC35f2kDXc8cgLYWc9_oUZmINoTfP3_I
  2. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220622/dq220622c-eng.htm
  3. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220622/dq220622c-eng.htm
  4. https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/study-canada/work/work-off-campus.html
  5. https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadian-firefighters-race-flames-evacuate-yellowknife-2023-08-18/
  6. Climate and migration. (2015). Exploring climate, disasters and migration. [Online podcast]. https://climatemigration.org.uk/podcast-when-people-move-understanding-how-climate-change-creates-the-movement-of-people/
  7. Migrant Rights Network. 2023. About Migrant Rights Network. https://migrantrights.ca/about/
  8. Greenfield, N. (2022). Climate migration and equity. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/climate-migration-equity
  9. Fukuchi, A. n.d. No borders: There is no environmental justice without immigrant justice. https://www.no-burn.org/no-borders-there-is-no-environmental-justice-without-immigrant-justice/
  10. Ahsan, R. (2019). Climate-induced migration: Impacts on social structures and justice in Bangladesh. South Asia Research, 39(2), 184-201.
  11. The Leap. 2019. Migrant justice is climate justice. https://theleap.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Migrant-Justice-is-Climate-Justice-4.12.19.pdf
  12. Alam, J. 2022. For climate migrants in Bangladesh, town offers a new life. https://apnews.com/article/immigration-climate-science-business-environment-f12044741514a62ca3f4fd692bf006d0