Our event, in collaboration with DLA Piper, offered a profound exploration of the nexus between climate change, displacement, and the refugee crisis. The discussion underscored the urgency of these interconnected issues and the necessity for innovative solutions.
The panel comprised a diverse set of experts, including Gail, a refugee from South Sudan. His personal narrative emphasised the importance of social integration and the potential of refugees to contribute positively to their host societies, reminding us that behind the term “refugee” are individuals with dreams, talents, and potential.
Gail’s perspective on the term “refugee” was enlightening. He suggested that labelling individuals as “refugees” could serve as a constant reminder of their past traumas and potentially hinder their integration into society. This highlights the importance of language and how it can shape our perceptions and treatment of displaced individuals.
Legal aspects of the crisis were also discussed, with some panellists advocating for expanding international law protections for climate refugees, while others cautioned about potential unintended consequences of such an expansion.
The complexity of the issues at hand was underscored, with climate change described as a “mega risk multiplier,” exacerbating existing threats and creating new ones. This highlighted the need for a multifaceted approach that considers the interplay of environmental, social, and political factors.
Innovative financial mechanisms, such as the Refugee Empowerment Fund, were highlighted. This fund leverages the global carbon market to support sustainable natural resource management in refugee-hosting areas, demonstrating the potential for solutions that address multiple issues simultaneously.
In conclusion, the event underscored the need for a paradigm shift in our approach to climate displacement and the refugee crisis. It called for solutions that are not only legally and economically sound but also humane and inclusive, recognising the inherent dignity and potential of every individual affected by these crises. The event was a testament to the power of dialogue and collaboration in addressing complex global challenges.
Jaz O’Hara’s work supporting refugees and asylum seekers began in the notorious Calais Jungle in 2015 and Jaz has worked tirelessly in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East ever since, telling the stories that too often go unheard. As a writer for The Huffington Post, winner of Marie Claire’s ‘Future Shaper’ award and member of Amnesty International’s ‘Collective’, Jaz has become a leading voice on the topic of migration, speaking everywhere from TedX, to the United Nations in NYC. Jaz and her team are dedicated to challenging the fear-based narrative of today’s media and society and do so through film, talks and an extremely popular podcast.
Giel Malual is a South Sudanese speaker and advocate for refugee rights. Giel’s work is powered by his own story of crossing land and sea to make it to safety aged just 16. Despite facing imprisonment, modern day slavery and more, Giel’s courage and bravery saw him overcome all odds to arrive to the UK, where he is now working as a model and student.
Michelle Yonetani is the Senior Policy Officer in the Office of the Special Advisor for Climate Action at the UN Refugee Agency. She joined UNHCR in 2020, with over fifteen years of experience as a specialist on the topic of climate change and displacement, and from humanitarian action grounded in local networks, primarily in Asia and the Pacific. Prior to this, she worked closely with UNHCR as a partner in the UN climate change processes, using evidence to advocate for people displaced or at risk of becoming so. Today, climate action is a strategic priority for UNHCR and Michelle’s role combines policy engagement with strategic support to strengthen the resilience of refugees and displaced people on the frontlines of the global climate crisis.
Milly Thomas is the Pro Bono Associate at DLA Piper, and leads on Climate and Biodiversity.
Paul Van Zyl is the co-Founder of The Conduit and Chief Creative Officer. Paul is a winner of the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He served as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission and co-founded the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), an international human rights organisation based in New York City.