The Link Between Climate Change and the Refugee Crisis


Hannah Rola, Senior Features Editor

Climate change has been a widely discussed, sometimes controversial, topic for years now. However, there is a consequence of the global climate shift that is not as popular to talk about: the link between climate change and the refugee crisis. There are some who believe the evidence for this connection is simply not enough to prove anything, but there are multiple creditable sources, including Time magazine and the New York Times, that support the argument that climate change is indeed a contributing factor to the mass movement of people seeking asylum.

Let’s take Syria for example. In the past decade or so this region of the world has experienced extremely arid air, which is thought to have been caused by the weakening of winds that carry moisture-filled air from the Mediterranean and increased water vaporization due to warmer temperatures. These two factors, with no clear natural cause, have led to the worst drought that this region has seen in roughly 900 years. This region is admittedly prone to droughts, but the causes of this drought appear to have been exaggerated by the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The aftermath of such a drought, and consequential crop failure, resulted in the movement of about 1.5 million people into Syrian cities and urban areas in order to support themselves and their families. With tensions already high in Syria due to other matters, the influx of so many people put further pressure on the resources within the cities and created social stress. The civil unrest that followed then led to an all out war that has now been raging on for seven years. Thousands of Syrian citizens now seek refuge in Europe, which has begun to cause tension and problems for those countries of asylum, which may not have the abilities to help these refugees as they need to be helped.

Sadly, the crisis in Syria is not a unique event, and multiple other countries in North Africa and the Middle East have undergone similar periods of unrest resulting in refugees fleeing, which can be related back to climate change and its damaging effects. The idea that the refugee crisis and climate change are linked is not an entirely new idea, with reports that during George W. Bush’s presidency, senior U.S. military officials showed concern over the link. In 2014, the Department of Defense recognized that climate change acts as an active “threat multiplier” and can create great tension and instability within countries.

Of course, the situation of the refugee crisis is very complicated, and it is hard to say and prove that climate change is a true factor involved. However, when looking at the reasons for the mass movement of people, climate-related problems such as droughts do seem to play a major role, and should be addressed by world leaders who want to solve the issue of the refugee crisis.