Environmental Refugees

Displaced From Their Homes By Disaster and Environmental Circumstances

Environmental Refugees
Disasters such as wildland fires can cause individuals and families to become environmental refugees. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

When major disasters hit or if sea levels rise drastically, millions of people are displaced and left without homes, food, or resources of any kind. These people are left to seek new homes and livelihoods, yet they are not offered international aid due to the reason that they are displaced.


Refugee Definition

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines environmental refugees as “those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural and/or triggered by people) that jeopardized their existence and/ or seriously affected the quality of their life.” According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), an environmental refugee is a person displaced owing to environmental causes, notably land loss and degradation, and natural disaster.


Permanent and Temporary Environmental Refugees


Natural and Human Causes


International Refugee Law


  • They are outside their country of origin or outside the country of their formal habitual residence;
  • They are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted; and
  • The persecution feared is based on at least one of five grounds: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.


Resources for Environmental Refugees

is an organization that is working to put environmental refugee issues on the agendas of politicians and their website has information and statistics on environmental refugees as well as links to ongoing environmental refugee programs.