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Climate migrants said to face greater risk of modern slavery

Published : Monday, 27 September, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 322

New report warns that millions more people displaced by climate change will be exposed to trafficking and slavery in the coming decades, and calls for policies to protect them.
Researchers in a new report on the links between climate-related migration and modern slavery by Anti-Slavery International and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
The research includes case studies from West Africa and the coastal Sundarban region of India and Bangladesh, and shows how more extreme weather and rising seas, which push people to move, are putting vulnerable groups at greater risk of human trafficking and modern slavery.
"Climate and development policy makers and planners urgently need to recognise that millions of people displaced by climate change are being - and will be - exposed to slavery in the coming decades," Felipe Gonzlez Morales, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said at the report launch on Monday.
Climate change acts as a "stress multiplier" on existing factors such as poverty, inequality and conflict that drive modern slavery, with those uprooted from their homes especially at risk, the report noted.
It describes situations where people affected by climate change impacts - particularly women and girls - find themselves prey to trafficking agents or working merely to pay off escalating debts to employers.
That might include people living in aid camps because their homes were destroyed in a storm, or female family members left behind at home after their male relatives migrate to cities in search of work as the family land becomes infertile.
For example, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, in 2013, many survivors were coerced into working as prostitutes or labourers, the report noted.
Costly and damaging annual floods in Assam, in north-east India, also have led to women and girls being forced into child slavery or forced marriage to make ends meet.
Other climate change impacts such as drought and water scarcity are displacing people from their homes too, as well as saltier and less productive soils caused by rising sea levels and storm surges in coastal areas, the report said.
The report contains recommendations to address the connections between climate change, migration and modern slavery, including practical measures for UN agencies and governments.
Clare Shakya, IIED's director for climate change, said efforts so far had been mainly reactive after climate disasters and more work was needed to put in place ways to keep people safe before they are forced to move.
Thinking about where and how to relocate at-risk communities - and how they might earn a living once they arrive - was key, she added.
The report cited the example of Bulambuli District in eastern Uganda, where the government led a 10-year voluntary resettlement programme to relocate households from areas at high risk of landslides to safer ones.
Migrants were provided with housing, services, ways to make an income and land, it said.
Silva Bernardo, who also co-chairs the UN Adaptation Committee, said wealthy governments should make money available to "properly" support such efforts - potentially a challenge given the shortage of money going into adaptation programmes.
Ritu Bharadwaj, a senior climate change researcher at IIED, called for stronger social protection systems to help climate migrants.

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