Assessing existing mechanisms: Marine Franck from the UNHCR

Marine Franck is Climate Change and Disaster Displacement Officer at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She was interviewed by Marine Denis in 2016. 

What is the Nansen Initiative ? 

The UNHCR contributed to the Nansen Initiative from 2012 to 2015. The Nansen Initiative is an interstate consultative process lead by Switzerland and Norway. It aims at reaching consensus on principles of protection for displaced people, including those displaced because of climate change impacts. This process lead to the creation of a Protection Agenda. The Protection Agenda gathers different political options and approaches to limit and ease disaster-related displacements, as well as protecting better displaced people.  

What do you think of existing legal protections ? 

It is now well-known that the main part of global displacements occur internally – that is to say inside one country. Internally displaced people are protected by national laws, humanitarian laws and human rights, as stated for example in the African Kampala Convention. When countries need international assistance to cope with internal displacements, the HCR can intervene as coordinator. On the opposite, when addressing transnational displacements, there is no international protection instruments. Rather than encouraging a new international convention, the HCR fosters a better integration of efficient practices by the States and regional organisations into their strategies.  

What are the next steps of the project ? 

A new Disaster Displacements Platform has been launched at the Humanitarian World Summit of May, 23rd 2016. Germany and Bangladesh are chairing this process. The UNHCR is deeply involved in the institutional arrangements of this Platform. Its goal is the implementation of the Protection Agenda from the Nansen Initiative. Its aims at reinforcing the protection of displaced people, because of disasters but also of climate change induced-effects. 

How does the international community react face to the climate migration phenomenon ? 

There has been an increasing awareness of the international community on this topic in recent years. It had been considered for a long time as too complex and too sensitive for the public opinion to take up this issue. The Protection Agenda, the Sendai Framework for the Prevention of Disasters 2015-2030 and the Paris Agreement show a real appropriation of this major stake by the international community. “What was once unthinkable became inevitable” declared Ban Ki-Moon when announcing the adoption of the Paris Agreement. 

What are the ressources available to the UNHCR ? 

Climate-change induced displacements are more and more linked to what has always been the mandate of the UNHCR  :  protection of refugees, displaced persons and stateless persons. A large majority of climate change induced-displacements occur within the borders of one country. When these people finally cross a border, they usually qualify as refugees under the Geneva Convention of 1951. The Geneva Convention defines as refugees people owing a well-founded fear   of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Therefore there is a legal gap to protect people who exclusively cross border because of disasters or climate change impacts. 

Did the Nansen Initiative allow for change ? 

It has lead to a better understanding of the challenges linked to disasters and climate change cross-border displacements. It has also allowed to recognize specific needs for people displaced because of natural disasters as well as pointing out existing deficiencies. 

What has been the role of the UNHCR during climate negotiations ? 

The UNHCR contributed to having human mobility taken into account in the result of the Paris Agreement. A few years ago, human mobility was considered as too controversial to be included in the Paris Agreement. The HCR now coordinates the Consultative Group on climate changes and human mobility, which is composed of IOM, UNU-EHS, PNUD, CNRC/IDMC, Sciences Po-CERI, Refugees International and the RAED. This Group supports the COP Parties on questions related to human mobility (displacements, migration, relocations). Since 2013, the Consultative Group has made several presentations at the UNFCCC and organized a large number of side events. In Paris, the HCR organized meetings of the Consultative Group every morning to analyze the new negotiation texts and propose adequate recommendations to the Parties. The HCR is also a member of the Working Group on Climate Change (WGCC), of the High Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), through which the HCR has already contributed to many events. 

Is there a link between climate migrations and international conflicts ? 

Climate change exacerbates the competition for ressources such as water, food and energy. It acts as an accelerator of armed conflicts, which may lead to additional displacements. The combination of droughts and famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011 and 2012 lead to massive flows of Somalian refugees towards the Dadaab camp in Kenya. Climate change is not necessarily the first cause of migration but deeply transforms existing vulnerabilities in real crisis. 

What role does the HCR have in those conflicts ? 

The HCR is the referent organisation to protect refugees and stateless persons in the context of armed conflicts. Since the 2000’s, the HCR also offers protection to people displaced because of natural disasters. The first time was in Ski Lanka and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami, after being requested to intervene by the Secretary General due to the ambit of the catastrophe. 

How does the HCR intervene ? 

The “soft policy” branch of the HCR participates into inter governmental initiatives such as the Nansen Initiative, contributes to international processes, coordinates and develop international legal instruments. 

The operational branch works to increase adaptation capacities facing climate change effects. Such action requires field work, with local teams mobilized to foresee mobility flows. This team works a lot on energy issues. 

What can be done today to efficiently protect environmentally-displaced people ? 

We can work with concerned States to prevent and limit displacements. Several options are therefore available : adaptation, planned relocation…When displacements are inevitable, there is a need to assit and protect displaced people. 

How to relocate these populations on a same territory ? 

Planned relocation has to be implemented after consultation with the affected communities. When relocation is not correctly planned, it might lead to secondary displacements, sometimes even human rights violations. When relocation cannot be avoided, it has to be strictly limited and the process must always guarantee that the affected communities’ rights are preserved. The HCR, the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University developed guidelines for participative planned relocation which takes into account these populations specific needs. 

What is the HCR approach on “climate refugees” ? 

People displaced because of climate change do not fall within the definition of the Geneva Convention and therefore cannot be called refugees. 

Rather than creating a new international convention, the HCR prefers to foster States and regional organisations practices, adapted to their specific situations and needs. 

What do you think of an international financial contribution ? 

There already is the Green Funds. It is now time to mobilize the international community on this question. States must cope with the challenge of relocation, which requires additional fundings. 

What actors may contribute to addressing such challenges ? 

Cooperation between actors must be encouraged, as well as regional and bilateral agreements. Such agreements must be supported by NGOs. There is an important diplomatic work to be done first.