Refugee research centre focused on impact in Pacific and Asia

The issues facing people forced out of their homes due to conflict or climate change in Asia and the Pacific will be the focus of a new research centre at the University of Auckland.

Associate Professor Jay Marlowe and Dr Gül İnanç will be leading the new centre.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies (CAPRS) will be led by refugee expert Associate Professor Jay Marlowe at the University’s Faculty of Education and Social Work and Dr Gül İnanç, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Dr Marlowe says the distinctions between climate and conflict-induced forced migration are becoming increasingly blurred as environmental change and persecution are creating unprecedented numbers of displaced people.

“The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre recently reported that nearly 25 million people were displaced due to disasters in 2019, highlighting the increased frequency and intensity of high impact weather events like cyclones and flooding,” he says.

“And because these disasters are likely to have a disproportionate impact on people in the Asia Pacific region, we need to be thinking urgently about how to manage the estimated millions who will be affected and displaced by them.”

The 2019 World Risk Index places ten of the top 20 countries exposed to the most risk of climate-induced disasters in the Asia Pacific region, with seven of these in the Pacific. And in January this year, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a (non-binding) ruling that countries cannot forcibly send people back to their home country if it would be unsafe to go back because of significant climate change.

“This ruling opens the debate that climate refugees now have access to the same rights as other refugees to a safe place to live,” says Dr Marlowe.

We need to be thinking urgently about how to manage the estimated millions who will be affected and displaced by climate-induced disasters.

Associate Professor Jay Marlowe Centre for Asia and Pacific Refugee Studies

Key questions for the centre’s researchers include: at what point is a place is no longer safe to live in because of rising sea levels, ground water salinification or frequent flooding? Where will people from uninhabitable countries go, in what numbers and who has an obligation to take them in? And for those recognised as climate refugees, what support can they expect in areas like housing, physical and mental health care, employment and education?

“It’s essential that the people who are experiencing climate-induced displacement have a voice in these deliberations,” says Dr Marlowe, so the centre will be bringing in local expertise from Asia and the Pacific, and once borders reopen, will be doing field research in areas likely to be worst affected, such as low-lying Pacific islands.

It will also be collaborating with several established research centres in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Arts: the Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences (COMPASS) and the Public Policy Institute (PPI), as well as working alongside colleagues from Development Studies and Māori and Pacific Studies.

“It’s important to combine forces and build a research capacity that will have a real-world impact for affected people, so we will be supporting Pacific scholars to establish best practice and policy solutions for the communities they are connected with,” says Dr Marlowe.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned the world has less than 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, and while it’s crucial for governments, corporates and individuals to do everything possible, we also need to be planning for worst case scenarios, he believes.

“We need to connect the dots between conflict and climate-induced displacement and establish proactive solutions at local, regional and global levels to effectively respond to what will likely be one of the greatest challenges our societies have ever faced.”

The first of its kind in New Zealand, the Centre for Asia Pacific Refugee Studies will launch in an online event on 15 July 2020 at 7pm (NZST).

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