No Place Like Home
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Khady Sene, 53, has a problem – rising seawater claimed her ancestral home in Saint-Louis, Senegal four years ago. It happened to be located on the Atlantic coast of the country, a place the United Nations has determined is the most threatened by climate change on the continent.
Now she has become a climate refugee.
That’s because even though the Senegalese government wants to relocate Sene and her neighbors into new properties, they refuse to give up their homes.
“They can move us,” Sene told the Washington Post, “but they cannot move our spirits.”
She’s not alone. Millions of people across Africa are becoming refugees due to climate change. Fleeing their homes and living itinerantly not because of war or economic collapse, this new kind of refugee is seeking hospitable regions of the planet.
As the International Rescue Committee explained, the Covid-19 pandemic, ongoing local conflicts, droughts, especially bad swarms of desert locusts, and food and energy price hikes due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine are precipitating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa.
These disasters cause social friction. In South Africa, after attacks on refugees and migrants amid an influx of newcomers, a Catholic bishop called on his congregants to treat their fellow humans with compassion. He stressed to them that climate change was part of the bundle of misfortunes that were bringing people to the country, added Crux.
The lengths people will go to escape inhospitable environments are great. Osman Ali fled Somalia, for instance, when the Shabelle River ran dry, wrote Bloomberg. When his sheep and goats were “skin and bones” and his crops wilted, he sold his land and traveled to Brazil. From there, he journeyed to Mexico intending to cross the US border.
Still, many refugees who might be classified as fleeing war might not have taken to the road if not for climate change, reported Fronteras, a special project of Arizona news station KJZZ. Accordingly, activists are pressuring US officials to treat climate refugees as such, too, wrote Inside Climate News.
Diplomats now say that climate change is a “threat multiplier” for other international crises, as the UN noted. As the Guardian wrote in relation to Ethiopians crossing the border into Somaliland to flee their civil war, for example, refugees might seek to escape bullets only to encounter starvation when they find a safe haven from violence.
If this problem grows, the instability could be monumental.