In observance of World Refugee Day, we recognize the stark and devastating fact that 2015 had more people displaced from their homes than any year before in human history: 65.3 million people — 2014 was the highest year before that, with 60 million people total displaced. Approximately 1 in 7 people in the world is a migrant, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that since 2008, an average of 26.4 million people have been displaced from their homes due to environmental disasters per year — a much higher figure that was seen thirty years ago. As the rate of environmental disasters increases with climate change, the number of environmental and climate refugees will increase to hundreds of millions of people by mid-century.

The numbers are truly tragic and astounding, because behind the statistics stands a world in deep crisis. Refugees are often displaced by a combination of factors — for example, an eight year drought in Syria was a significant cause of social instability that has escalated into the violent displacement of millions of Syrians.
International refugee law based on the 1951 Refugee Convention totally lacks protections for those who are displaced by environmental factors like sea level rise — leaving millions of coastal peoples at risk and with little recourse (read more). In the USA, a recent government $1 billion fund to address climate change impacts has included allocations to relocate residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana — members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw and United Houma Nations — which looks like it will be a very complicated process. Since 1955, 90% of their ancestral lands have disappeared to saltwater encroachment (read more).

Climate justice requires that we actively resist xenophobia and the causes of mass displacement and climate change. For those interested in taking action with their congregations to support refugees, we suggest reading the UU Service Committee Refugee Toolkit.