The Transnational Human Rights Review

Document Type


English Abstract

This article analyzes the reality and the criteria for the legal protection of environmental refugees. Using an interdisciplinary approach, it addresses questions about the existence, nature, universality, justification, and legal status of environmental refugees. Despite the lively debates within the community of experts and scientists specializing in migration and/or environmental issues, there is no consensus today on a definition of the term “environmental refugees” since 1985 when it officially appeared. Several descriptions such as ecological refugees, environmental refugees, climate refugees, eco-refugees, climate évacué, environmental migrants, displaced persons due to a natural disaster, environmentally displaced persons, etc. have been used without due regard to the still complex and little-known reality lying behind them. The debate on proper description has stalled, jeopardizing the legal recognition and concomitant protection. Regardless, over the past seventeen years, there has been a proliferation of actions militating for the recognition and protection of environmental refugees. The promotion of this concept as well as its content raises several questions: Does the concept of environmental refugees not undermine the subtle edifice established by the 1951 Refugee Convention? Does it not overturn the right of asylum? But above all, can today’s law provide protections for these “refugees”? Have policies fostered the need for protection? The paper argues that the phenomenon of environmental refugees is a timely illustration of a larger ongoing global development. It is important, in this regard, to rethink the environment in new ways, especially in terms of liability and providing legal protection to victims of environmental catastrophes. A new regime must certainly involve the adaptation and invention of concepts and especially the creation of new legal mechanisms suited to this complexity.