As world leaders gather at the pivotal climate summit, COP26, Islamic Relief’s senior policy advisor Jamie Williams reflects on the impact climate change is having on migration.
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Little Amal.
She has walked the trail taken by thousands fleeing conflict and despair in Syria. But her journey is that of all those forced to leave their homes, their lands, their certainties and security.
Her story made me think of a consultation organised by Islamic Relief in Bangladesh last month, where a local schoolgirl was telling a government official that, “it has been estimated that 1 out of 7 citizens of Bangladesh will be displaced by climate change by 2050, particularly due to the sea level rising”. She asked, “Can you let us know if we will be able to live in our area in 30 years? Or like fish, we will be needed to swim searching for land?”
And again I thought of Amal as I read about Abdul Malek in this week’s report from Islamic Relief Pakistan on climate displacement. He describes his native lands which were once agriculturally rich, before prolonged droughts: “I used to live as a farmer and worked on my own piece of land where I had livestock and I grew crops. Water scarcity and extreme climatic conditions have resulted in loss of both of my sources of income. After migrating, my villagers and I have become tenants. I am grateful to still be a farmer but I am a worker in other’s fields.”
The village to which they migrated was also not rich so the people already living there were not welcoming, he told us, explaining that, “resources in their own land were barely enough for their own use. With the migration of additional migrants, the situation would worsen”.
There is hope
Little Amal is not little. She is actually 3.5 metres tall.
Amal means ‘hope’ in Arabic. But she does not mean there is little hope.
Little Amal is a puppet. She had walked from Turkey to London, bringing a message of great hope that is marked by hospitality, compassion and empathy towards strangers in need
She is the remarkable creation of artists and activists from all over the world trying to bring the humanity of displacement, migration and asylum to the cities and countryside of Europe.
Millions more people will become climate migrants
Last weekend UK prime minister Johnson highlighted the threat of climate breakdown on, “desertification, habitat loss, movements, contests for water, for food, huge movements of peoples”.
In the coming years millions of us will be on the move once as we flee from the ever increasing peril of climate change. The UN estimates that there will be 200 million climate migrants by 2050. Many more will have to move from their homes and livelihoods.
Millions will be children, like Amal.
On November 10th Islamic Relief are leading an event at the centre of COP26 asking, “Could the greatest single impact of climate change be human migration?”. We continue with our work to reduce pressures forcing people to leave their homes through adaptation projects in over 20 countries.
Meanwhile, Little Amal reminds us of those who have sought sanctuary, and what we can do to ensure that refugees are welcome.