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Climate Change Refugees: Are There Any? Debunk

Climate Change Refugees: Are There Any? Debunk

A screenshot that read, “There isn’t A single climate refugee in the world today, despite the millions predicted by the UN,” was shared to us on whatsapp.

With the aid of twitter advanced search, we established that this was a comment  on Vanessa Nakate’s tweet posted on 21st Jan 2023. The comment wasn’t directly speaking to Vanessa’s tweet but it came after a series of comments between Cristian Paunescu and other people.


Climate migrants is a term used interchangeably with the term climate refugees. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security publication titled “5 facts on climate migrants,” climate migrants are people leaving their countries due to climate stressors such as droughts, floods, storms among others. However, these people are not legally considered as refugees because the 1951 Refugee Convention does not recognise the environment as a persecuting agent. 

Refugee is a legal term used with someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion according to Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention as stated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Therefore, when one uses the term climate refugees, they mean climate migrants and this is the right term that should be used.

Evidence Of Climate Migrants “Refugees”

A publication titled “Climate Migration in Africa” by the World Bank states that climate change stressors such as droughts and flooding have led to migration patterns as they thwart agricultural crops, food production systems, and water resources and place increasing pressure on urban areas.

Both internal and international migration occur; however, the majority of climate-related migration observed currently happens within countries or between neighboring countries, rather than to distant high-income countries. Urbanization has increased when rural livelihoods are negatively impacted by low rainfall. Over 2.6 million and 3.4 million new weather-related displacements occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 and 2019, according to Chapter 9 of the IPCC Sixth Assessment report.

The Horn of Africa drought has displaced hundreds of thousands. In 2011, 456,169 people were displaced, and between 2016 and 2017, about 943,000 were forced to flee. As of 2022, an ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa has already displaced 245,000 within Somalia according to the Climate Refugees Organisation, a human rights organization that calls for the protection and rights of those displaced by climate change.

In Angola, over 1.58 million people were affected by drought in 2022 which led to food insecurity. This forced over 3000 people to flee to nearby provinces and Namibia, according to the Red Cross in an article by Al Jazeera.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that an average of 21.5 million people were forcibly displaced each year by sudden-onset weather-related hazards between 2008 and 2016, and thousands more by slow-onset hazards linked to climate change impacts.

In March 2019, UNHCR relocated refugee families during Tropical Cyclone Idai. Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh are also being helped by UNHCR to mitigate the effects of monsoon storms.

The number of migrants in the world continues to increase by about 3 million each year. Approximately half of these originate in Africa. These increases are largely of rural origin and related to land degradation as stated in the UNHCR’s environmental refugee research paper by Richard Black.


The claim is false. There are climate change “refugees”/migrants registered around the world due to a number of factors. If these climate change factors are not addressed there are projected increases in current numbers. 

This fact-check was produced by Debunk Media Initiative with support from Code for Africa’s PesaCheck, International Fact-Checking Network and African Fact-Checking Alliance network.


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