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How Is Climate Change Impacting Europe's Refugee Crisis?

  • November 4th 2016

Thomas Friedman and Sydney Trattner at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June 2016.

The massive refugee crisis in Europe isn’t only the product of the war in Syria. Climate change is forcing thousands to flee to countries like Germany and Italy. Migrants from hot and dry regions in Central and West Africa are making the perilous journey. Journalist and author Tom Friedman says just like Syrians, these Africans are facing life and death situations. ”This (refugee crisis) is actually an African issue much more than a post Arab Spring issue,” he says.

At the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, Friedman sat down with Sydney Trattner, senior producer for the National Geographic Channel series Years of Living Dangerously. The two traveled to Senegal and Niger, following migrants as they traveled through Libya on their way to Europe. Trattner says population growth, fewer resources to share, and more natural disasters are forcing people out of their communities. One man told them he left Africa because “There is no rain. There is no sea. And the earth doesn’t work.”

Unlike people forced from their homes by war, climate refugees cannot apply for resettlement in a different country. An officer with the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR told Al Jazeera people fleeing their homes because of climate change are “not covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention.” The International Organization for Migration estimates 200 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050. “It’s getting drier. It’s getting warmer. It’s getting tougher. In Niger, it’s a question of life and death now,” says Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He’s featured in Friedman and Trattner’s Years of Living Dangerously episode Out of Africa. It airs on the National Geographic Channel on November 9.

By Marci Krivonen, Associate Editor/Producer, Public Programs

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