More and more climate refugee children

The new guidelines for the first global policy framework for the protection of children on the move in the face of climate change

[26 Luglio 2022]

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), Unicef, Georgetown University and the United Nations University (UNU) have published common relationship “Guiding Principles for Children on the Move in the Context of Climate Change”, the new guidelines that represent the first-ever global policy framework that will help protect, include and empower children on the move in the context of climate change.

UN agencies and universities explain that the guidelines “Provide a set of 9 principles that address the unique and layered vulnerabilities of children on the move, both indoors and abroad, due to the adverse effects of climate change. Currently, most migration policies regarding children do not take into account climatic and environmental factors, while most policies on climate change neglect the specific needs of children.

In connection with the presentation of the report, the Director General of IOM, António Vitorino, reminded that «The climate crisis has and will continue to have profound consequences for human mobility. Its impacts will be more severe for certain segments of our society, such as children; we cannot endanger future generations. Migrant children are particularly vulnerable as they move in the context of climate change, yet their needs and aspirations are still neglected in policy debates. With these guiding principles, we aim to ensure the visibility of their needs and rights, both in political debates and in planning. Addressing migration and child displacement in the context of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters is a huge challenge that we must face now”.

The guidelines note that “Climate change intersects with existing environmental, social, political, economic and demographic conditions that contribute to people’s decisions to move. In 2020 alone, nearly 10 million children were displaced as a result of meteorological shocks ». With around 1 billion children – almost half of the world’s 2.2 billion children – who live in 33 countries at high risk of the impact of climate change, several million children may become climate refugees in the coming years.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell noted that “Every day, rising sea levels, hurricanes, fires and poor harvests are pushing more and more children and families to flee their homes. Displaced children are most vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. They are more likely to lose access to education and health care. And they are often forced into early marriage and child labor. By working together, through coordinated action based on these principles, governments, civil society and international organizations can better protect the rights and welfare of children on the move.” .

Developed in collaboration with young climate and migrant activists, academics, experts, policy makers, professionals and UN agencies, the Guiding Principles are based on the globally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child and are further informed by guidelines and frameworks already in place are operational.

David Passarelli, Executive Director of the United Nations University Center for Policy Research, in turn recalled that «For years, the international community has sounded the alarm about climate change and environmental degradation, as well as about the likelihood of mass displacement of people. These predictions have come true with climate-related migration observed in all parts of the world. Among those moving due to the rapidly changing climate are an increasing number of children. Although these children benefit from a range of international and national protections, the subject is highly technical and difficult to access, creating a protection deficit for immigrant children. UNU, Unicef ​​and our partners have emphasized the need for concise guidelines that communicate risks, safeguards and rights in clear and accessible language. The Guiding Principles for Children on the Road in the Context of Climate Change were developed with this specific objective in mind. This tool helps navigate the complex nexus between migrants’ rights, children’s rights and climate change to respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of children on the move in the face of climate change.

UN agencies and universities call on governments, local and regional actors, international organizations and civil society groups to embrace the Guiding Principles to help protect, include and empower refugee children in the context of climate change. The Guiding Principles provide national and local governments, international organizations and civil society groups with a basis for building policies that protect children’s rights, and Elizabeth Ferris, director of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration, concludes: “While the new guidelines do not offer any new legal obligations, distills and leverages the key principles already established in international law and adopted by governments around the world. We urge all governments to review their policies in light of the Guiding Principles and to take action now that will ensure that children on the move in the face of climate change are protected today and in the future.

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