Session: Environmental Migration and Climate Refugees: An Intersectional, Interdisciplinary Dialogue on Research, Policy, Practice and Action (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

305 Environmental Migration and Climate Refugees: An Intersectional, Interdisciplinary Dialogue on Research, Policy, Practice and Action

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Union Square 3/4 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
Cluster: Sustainable Development, Urbanization, and Environmental Justice (SDU&E)
Andreas Rechkemmer, Dr rer pol, University of Denver, Meredith Powers, PhD, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Abha Rai, MSW, University of Georgia, Yolanda Machado-Escudero, MSW, University of Georgia and James M. Shultz, PhD, University of Miami
Global climate change increasingly drives, contributes to or aggravates forced migration, population displacement and resettlement. Recent projections forecast that current trends will accelerate, leading to an estimated 200-250 million forced environmental migrants and climate refugees (who may or may not qualify for legal refugee status) by the year 2050. Those displaced due to climate change are likely to outnumber any other group of displaced people/refugees. This trajectory is anticipated to create dangerous tipping points for the livelihoods and wellbeing of many social-ecological systems, including people who are already vulnerable and/or marginalized, making it a global health and public security concern.

For instance, global climate change poses unprecedented risks and threats to international stability, security, and peace. Through its highly dynamic, non-linear and complex cascading effects, climate change triggers and adds to a stunning global landscape of fragility, instability and disorder, whether conflict over scarce resources, weak governance and/or failing statehood, with forced mass migration acting as both a result and a driver. For instance, in May 2016 the UN Security Council determined that climate change is now a major conflict factor in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel, and increasing evidence suggests that climate change affecting the region has played a significant role in the Arab Spring events of 2011 and related mass migration patterns. In addition, among the public and mental health consequences of climate change, environmentally induced forced migration is one of the harshest and most harmful outcomes, always involving a multiplicity of profound resource and social losses and frequently exposing migrants to trauma and violence.

The theme of environmental migration and climate refugees is highly relevant to social work research, education, and practice, as creating social responses to a changing environment is a grand challenge within social work. Therefore, it is imperative to train social workers in ways to address climate change and the intersecting needs of migrants and refugees, conduct research to create culturally responsive interventions suitable for migrants and refugees, and link research to policy, advocacy, and action. This Roundtable session aims to initiate a sustained dialogue about necessary social work research contributions, questions, methodologies, designs and outcomes regarding the climate/environment and forced migration nexus, its causes, complications, dimensions and effects on diverse groups, populations and social systems with particular emphasis on social and environmental justice. The Roundtable is interdisciplinary in reaching out to related disciplines (e.g., psychology, public health, policy and law) and intersectional in shedding light on critical connections to established themes of social work research such as gender, violence, trauma, family preservation, prevention, and resilience. Following brief presentations on current research on environmental justice issues in global migration and resettlement and case studies on Southern Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Sudan, the panelists will engage participants in a structured activity to identify further collaborative research projects and methods, as well as ways to translate research findings to affect education, practice, and policy action (e.g., advocate for the inclusion of climate change and environmental degradation/disasters in eligibility requirements for refugee status).

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