In Climate Migration, Humanitarian Issues


It is important for Canada to devise an immigration policy and mechanism whereby individuals who are displaced due to natural disasters have a distinct category under which to apply for immigration. By re-naming and redefining  “climate migrants” or  “climate refugees” as being “Individuals displaced by Natural Disaster”, the government can bring under one umbrella those displaced as a result of geological upheavals such as earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, hurricanes, and such,  but also include weather-related disasters such as fires, floods drought, and extreme heat.  By bringing individuals under one general category of natural disasters, it avoids the attribution of any blame to human activity or national interests related to climatic temperature increase. We will focus strictly on the effect of geological or natural disasters on people experiencing displacement. The issue becomes one of objective assessment.

Objective Assessment

Objectivity allows a neutral assessment of how such individuals become displaced. It behooves Canada to rely on objective international metrics to assess when individuals become victims of natural disasters. People generally immigrate for various reasons and here the line becomes blurred whether their movement is for general immigration or truly as a result of being displaced. The issue for the government will be to assess the type and degree of displacement, over what length of time such displacement will occur, ability of home governments to respond, availability of resources, and the ability to translocate within their own country.

Any immigration selection process prompted by natural disasters can be tied to objective metrics provided by international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration, United Nations agencies, the Nansen Initiative, Stockholm Resilience Center, all of which produce copious data with regard to current international conditions. The government of Canada can then utilize such international standards in its definition of a person displaced due to a natural disaster. A hierarchy of regions or countries can be established ranging from severe, such as Kirabati, to the less precarious.

Mechanisms of selection

Currently, the government uses public policy directives to apply to individuals who suffer immediate displacement by way of drastic geographical disasters. The policies are applied in a haphazard fashion and depend upon the disaster occurring and the whims of the individual minister of Immigration or government in power at the time. What is needed is the creation of a distinct class of displaced individuals coming from areas prone to such disasters and a systemic change of rules of the categories which exist under the present immigration selection process. The current rules be they under economic, family or humanitarian classes can and should be revamped. The government is not immune, as we have seen, by its public policy directives in making such instantaneous decisions. Such directives should become permanent fixtures of the current selection rules.

We can apply strategic modifications (some of which have been used already) of our present immigration regulations to assist such displaced people by:

  • expanding the present policy of allowing those who come from such devastated regions, and are in Canada, to apply for  expedited permanent residency, for expedited work permits or continuation of  temporary permits
  • allowing sponsorship of displaced individuals, regardless of the degree of relationship, by Canadian relatives who can show financial capability of sponsorship
  • altering the present point system under the Federal Skilled Worker grid and the Express Entry system by granting a defined number of points as a result of being a national or citizen from a country in a climatic-endangered zone
  • expediting or facilitating student or work permits for individuals coming from such devastated or climatic zones
  • sidestepping the LMIA requirements creating a class of individuals qualified for work permits as the government has done for the French mobility program
  • creating and allowing an allotment of IEC candidates coming from such countries as it does for some visa-exempt countries

Canada stands in a unique position, not only based on its reputation for the highest per capita acceptance of immigrants, but also by being located latitudinally where climatic changes will be less devastating over the next 50 to 100 years.  Canada will be called upon to accept even greater numbers of individuals who are displaced from warmer southern temperatures. What we do now in planning and implementing procedures will set a standard for the world to follow and be accepted as the international norm because of that established reputation.