Malaysia needs to prepare for climate-induced migration, natural disasters

22 Jul 2023 11:53am
Image for illustrative purposes only. – Facebook
Image for illustrative purposes only. – Facebook

KUALA LUMPUR - Climate-induced migration has been an issue of concern around the world, with a global think tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), estimating that 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally by 2050 due to natural disasters.

Recently, Chief of Mission of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Kendra Rinas, during a seminar on migration at Universiti Malaya said as Southeast Asia is globally considered one of the most vulnerable regions, more migrants will come to Malaysia seeking refuge from the effects of climate change.

On the other hand, more Malaysians are expected to migrate within and out of the country due to the effects of climate change, raising concern about whether Malaysia is ready to adapt to these challenges.

When contacted by Bernama, Rinas noted that in the past three years, the Malaysian government has launched two national action plans on Forced Labour and Trafficking in Persons, as well as committed to a National Action Plan on business and human rights.

She reckoned these as good initial steps, and if strongly implemented, have the possibility to improve migration governance and protection of migrants.

In the context of climate migration specifically, she said there are opportunities to better translate broad, global policy principles and commitments into actionable activities on the ground, especially at national and local levels.

"Some countries have already developed national policies and frameworks that seek to address the challenges linked to the adverse impacts of climate change on migration, but such efforts remain relatively limited overall.

"Doing more to integrate climate change and human mobility issues in policies and frameworks, such as through National Adaptation Plans, will be important,” she said.

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As most climate-related migration and displacement currently take place within countries, she suggested governments adopt a comprehensive approach that brings together externally focused responses, including policy areas such as border management, visas, entry and stay, and diaspora engagement, with internally focused responses related to disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development.

Rinas highlighted eight areas to focus on in managing climate migration - strengthening resilience and adaptation; establishing legal frameworks; building capacity and infrastructure; fostering social integration; collaboration and regional cooperation; addressing root causes; public awareness and education; and involvement of youth.

To enhance resilience and adaptation in mitigating the impact of climate change within the country, she said the government should invest in infrastructure, early warning systems, and disaster preparedness to minimise the effects of natural disasters.

She said establishing legal frameworks involves updating existing immigration laws with humanitarian procedures to provide legal protection and assistance to climate migrants, especially those who have added vulnerabilities, women, children, and the elderly.

On building capacity and infrastructure, Rinas said relevant government agencies, such as immigration, social welfare, disaster management and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should be able to handle the potential increase in human mobility, including within Malaysia.

To foster social integration between the migrants and local communities, she said this could be achieved by encouraging cultural exchange programmes, languages classes, and community initiatives to facilitate understanding and acceptance.

"Engage civil society organisation, NGOs, and community-based organisations to support integration effects and create an inclusive environment,” she said.

Rinas said regional cooperation and information sharing with neighbouring countries that may also be affected by environmental migration is also important to help address the challenges collectively, sharing best practices and establishing mechanisms for burden-sharing and support.

She underscored that addressing the root causes of climate change is also crucial, adding that Malaysia can actively participate in international climate change agreements and advocate for effective mitigation and adaptation measures globally, while also focusing on climate change adaptation efforts at home.

On awareness and education, she said the public must be informed about the importance of adaptation, resilience-building, and the need to support, integrate and accept climate migrants.

Meanwhile, Rinas said the younger generation will need to have a better understanding of migration, migrant populations, and the nexus of migration and climate change.

"It is crucial for the youth to be involved in the discussion and decision making,” she said adding that by fostering empathy, compassion, and understanding, youths can help challenge stereotypes and promote a more inclusive society. - BERNAMA

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