Ovais Sarmad, chief of staff at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spoke to the Dhaka Tribune's Syed Zainul Abedin on the sidelines of the Delta Coalition Ministerial Conference in Dhaka. He discussed various issues related to migration driven by climate change.
How will Bangladesh face challenges lying ahead – including the most important being pressure on land use, climatic impacts, environmental protection, governance, globalisation and macro-economic development?
First of all, from my perspective, from IOM, we consider that Bangladesh is at a very important juncture in terms of many socio-economic, political and climate change issues that are real for a country like Bangladesh.
To address them, the government has to take a very proactive and a longer term view – on one hand to ensure the economic growth of the country, providing safety and security, and economic well-being of the nation. But at the same, addressing the issues that are dire because of climate change and the subsequent rising water level – there is environmental degradation – and land is being eroded. Those are very strong issues that drive people towards more urbanisation, and from there also to migrate to other countries, unfortunately.
And there are traffickers and smugglers who are benefiting from this kind of situation. We have to solve that. We have to take all measures. The IOM's role is to work with the government, to help them address the situation by providing evidence, information that is necessary for the government to make policies.
These have real consequences. And when they happen, we [will] also assist people affected by it by bringing them home from different countries, providing shelter and immediate humanitarian assistance.
Unfortunately, there is no single solution. It is not a medicine that you can take, and everything will be fine. It has to be a multitude of different solutions that have to work together. Migration and climate change by nature are not restricted within the boundaries of a country. It is regional, it is global. Climate, which has implication to one part of the world, has effects on other parts. Migration is like that as well.
Climate change is threatening the significant achievements made by Bangladesh in raising incomes and reducing poverty in the last two decades. If nothing is done, by 2050, climate change impact could make an additional 15% of the country extremely vulnerable to floods and affect more than 35 million people in the coastal districts. In such state, how will the Delta Coalition help Bangladesh overcome various challenges?
There are so many global mechanisms in the world – the UN, non-governmental organisations, private sector initiatives – but what we need to do is “zeroing in” – to focus on specific issues, specific regions, specific aspects of this phenomenon which is driven by climate change.
In this case, it is the Delta Coalition. There are countries that are populated around the deltas. They have come together to share their experiences – good and not so good. They can learn from each other and come up with solutions that can be shared – evidence-based knowledge.
What we do as a multilateral organisation in the UN system is to take those actions and help mobilise global and multilateral support towards those actions that are agreed at the Delta Coalition and raise the level of its importance to the multilateral banks like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for funding to help countries like Bangladesh and many small islands in the Pacific or other deltas feeling climate change impacts.
Climate change contributes to huge migration – both internal and external – which creates multidimensional problems both in people's lives and to the countries. How does Delta Coalition help Bangladesh in tackling these problems?
The first step is to recognise that there is a problem, there is an issue. I think Bangladesh has recognised this issue through the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. So there is no doubt. Nobody disputes that there is a very serious threat to the world because of climate change, because of rising temperatures.
They have agreed to limit carbon emission to prevent rise in temperatures. But there is no action still. The agreement is there, the intention is there, but we need to work now. That needs to happen.
And that would be my role in my next assignment with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to work with the executive secretary and the team to help countries, who have agreed to the Paris Agreement, to now move to implementation. That firstly means reducing carbon emissions and secondly, to really help poor, least developed or middle income nations to adapt.
That is why the green climate fund was established. It has to be made available. All of this will happen only if there is strong political will. Otherwise, all these agreements will remain on paper. That is not good. We need to bring the political will.
And my last point – how to bring the political will – is through us, through people. The common people have to understand. And that is where the press, the media have a very big role to play to communicate in simple terms to the public so that they can bring the change at the societal levels.
Could you please share your own view? Do you see any difficulty in achieving SDGs for Bangladesh as a deltaic country amid challenges of climate change?
Actually I don't. I think Bangladesh is on a very strong trajectory in all the SDGs. They are trying very hard. But given the socio-economic issues of the country, it has limitations in terms of funding, in terms of jetty geography – the land available and the climate change. So, they need innovative and technological advantage … and there are several out there. I expect the government to look into that matter and use those solutions and implement those at the local level.
Foreign remittance contributes much to our economy. But, for many reasons, Bangladesh is losing its overseas labour market. Many of the overseas workers are returning home. On the other hand, many Bangladeshis are migrating, especially to European countries, as they are impacted by climate change. How can Bangladesh tackle this situation?
Media reports say the European Union is tightening visas for Bangladeshis because it wants irregular nationals of other countries to go back home. This is the reality of migration that needs to be addressed.
In IOM, we believe that migration should be regular, dignified, and orderly. And it should not be illegal, irregular and forced. It should be managed very well. We are not seeing solidarity among the governments to look at migration in a positive way.
Unfortunately, migration is being looked at from ethnic, security, and religious angle which isn’t right because migrants could have contributed three times more to the global economy when they migrate in a legal, regular fashion. So, those facts have to be communicated again.
In Bangladesh's case, the country has to manage immigration and emigration much more effectively through national identification process. It has to limit the irregular outflows and help the nationals, who find themselves in irregular situation in different countries, to return.
And also to bilaterally negotiate with countries, regions, EU where Bangladeshis can legally go and work in sectors where there is a need for skilled or semi-skilled labour, or employment where they can go … [There is] no simple solution, but there are many pieces of it. Many of it is being worked on. It will take time.
What about IOM’s global focus on migration work at present and development of the global migration compact?
Global Compact on Migration adopted on September 19 last year is a huge decision by the global community and all the states. The IOM joined the UN system at the same time.
In terms of global architecture, there are all sorts of agreements like on trade, security, transportation of oil, air traffic, and air control. But one piece that is missing is how people will move from one country to another. There is no global agreement that countries can refer to and say this is how migration should happen, should be governed, these are the principles of migration.
UN Global compact is addressing that gap and IOM is very active and leading the process and informing all member states about all aspects of good governance, good migration, good migration management. We hope that by September 2018, a global compact on migration will be adopted and implemented.
In fact, Bangladesh was one of the first countries to propose initiation of the global compact, thanks to Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque.
How is IOM’s collaboration with UN benefiting the organisation?
IOM now is part of the UN system … still in its early days. But we are now part of the decision-making bodies of all the UN's systems. Our director general participates in the Chief Executive Board, high-level committee on programme and policy. So, we have greater access to the UN system and the UN decision-making process. Until now, IOM was considered as an organisation outside the system.
To what has the length people’s mobility been influenced by climate change in the deltaic regions?
I do not have the exact numbers but I can assure you that there is a huge impact because of climate change in the delta regions. As I said, the government has to work on different aspects of this issue – to prevent it, to address when it happens, to help people move to safer areas. The low-lying areas are very dangerous.
Bangladesh is growing at 7%. Economically, the country is doing well. But what it needs to do is to make that growth sustainable because that growth is limited to certain sectors of the economy. It has to spread more broadly.
How has climate change induced migration been perceived globally?
It has not been well understood. I think, globally people don't understand that climate change is actually driving people. They have not seen it yet. But it is happening. We know that it is happening.
That is the role of IOM and other organisations and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We need to bring it to the attention of the world and we are trying to do that. We have a dedicated section on migration, environment and climate change.
What is IOM’s take on climate change induced migration?
The first thing is that it is a reality. From IOM, we implement various projects to prevent and to provide protection and to inform the government about implications of climate change and what it will do if it is not managed well beforehand.
Don't wait until the water level rises or flooding occurs, or droughts take place. Prevent it through policies, through actions, through projects so that people are protected. And IOM supports that through its projects and programmes.