Norway's climate refugees dilemma / Columns / The Foreigner

Norway's climate refugees dilemma. The Maldives is drowning. The islanders are desperate to leave as the seas rise around them. Thousands of climate refugees will soon swamp Europe--and perhaps Norway. At least, that is what we are often led to believe. Reality is much more sober. Guraidhoo Island lies a short speedboat trip south from the capital of the Maldives, Malé. You can walk around it in less than an hour, enjoying the placid beaches and waves.

climatechange, norwayrefugees



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Norway's climate refugees dilemma

Published on Sunday, 2nd February, 2014 at 13:39 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.

The Maldives is drowning. The islanders are desperate to leave as the seas rise around them. Thousands of climate refugees will soon swamp Europe--and perhaps Norway.

A street on Guraidhoo, the Maldives
Sunny streets such as this one could be swamped in the future.A street on Guraidhoo, the Maldives
Photo: Ilan Kelman


At least, that is what we are often led to believe. Reality is much more sober.

Guraidhoo Island lies a short speedboat trip south from the capital of the Maldives, Malé. You can walk around it in less than an hour, enjoying the placid beaches and waves.

But usually, you take longer. The air is hot and humid. The pace of life is relaxed. Many local residents sensibly rest in hammocks in the shade of coconut palms during the blistering afternoon sun.

Many work at a tourist resort on the neighbouring island. Others run their own guest houses or shops, selling wares to the resort's guests.

Land is a problem on Guraidhoo. There are plans to double the island's size through reclamation in order to give everyone a chance to own their plot and house. The local school is hoping to get a new playing field. The foundations have been laid for a new mosque.

For the residents, the island has a future. Life is far from idyllic because income can be unreliable, and it is a small community with few livelihood opportunities.

Consequently, migration is considered for work, education, and family. If they move, people would then go mainly to the Maldives' capital. Oslo or Tromsø are not really on the agenda. In fact, many like their home and would prefer to stay.

There is no imminent struggle to depart before they drown. No one is pouring concrete into the sea to build five-metre high protective walls. Climate change is hardly mentioned.

That raises a moral question: Should Norway inform those from Guraidhoo about climate change? It is far from certain that the atolls will disappear, but there could be habitability concerns due to freshwater, food security, and coral reef deaths. There are many uncertainties and unknowns.

What about the rest of the Maldivians if Norway offers residency to those from Guraidhoo? Could the offer spark an exodus faster than climate change would? Who has the right and duty to inform islanders about climate change and mobility options?

These are the real questions. Let's stop the usual, inaccurate rhetoric on climate change refugees and instead address the true challenges.

Ilan Kelman is a Reader in Risk, Resilience and Global Health at University College London.




Published on Sunday, 2nd February, 2014 at 13:39 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.

This post has the following tags: climatechange, norwayrefugees.





  
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