Bangladesh must advocate for legal migration opportunities for climate-vulnerable people

Climate migration was not on the agenda at COP27, despite millions of people around the world being vulnerable to climate change. Photo archives: Habibur Rahman

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Climate migration was not on the agenda at COP27, despite millions of people around the world being vulnerable to climate change. Photo archives: Habibur Rahman

The last 15 years have seen an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones, floods and tidal waves in Bangladesh. The impacts of salinity intrusion and drought have worsened over the past two years. These climatic events have affected the livelihoods of the coastal population and their ability to adapt.

Agricultural options are already scarce in coastal areas, and due to extreme salinity and changing rainfall patterns, harvesting paddy or other seasonal crops has become quite difficult. On the other hand, shrimp farming, although popular in coastal areas, has not generated many job opportunities. It is also vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as shrimp farms can be swept away by powerful tidal waves and cyclones. Apart from agricultural activities, opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the service sector are also limited in coastal villages.

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If you look from the outside, it may seem that local young people and their families have very little hope for the future. Poverty, school dropouts, early marriages and health problems due to the use of salt water are widespread. But if you hear about their dreams, you will be surprised at their resilience.

Many young people in the region have already completed college or even higher education. The internet has now reached even the remotest villages of Padmapukur and Koyra, connecting people and their ideas. Young people don’t just play games on their smartphones, they access information about job opportunities, at home and abroad.

For example, I met an HSC student from the Kaikhali Union of Shyamnagar, Satkhira, who planned to learn computer skills to get freelance or online jobs. Ambitions have no borders. I met Asmat, eight years old, who has already decided to become a pilot. He doesn’t want to be a van driver like his father, who works hard to make ends meet.

Another HSC candidate, Sadiya, is looking for opportunities to work abroad. In fact, many teenagers like her are fascinated with overseas employment. For example, a man told me how he went to work in India every year. Although a friend of his was arrested by the police and imprisoned for a few months for working there illegally, he still considers it profitable because he cannot find any viable job opportunities in his village during the rainy season.

The young population of coastal villages wants to develop their skills and knowledge and advance their careers. But in the absence of training and employment opportunities, many of them are not realizing their potential. They end up working in brick kilns or other informal sector jobs where labor exploitation is quite prevalent. The lack of necessary protection mechanisms also leads to migration failure for some.

However, the parents of these young children also understand the importance of research for local adaptation. Many have expressed hope that the government will make special arrangements to export labor from their climate-vulnerable villages.

Residents of coastal areas may be unaware of the goals of the GCM (Global Compact on Migration) which aim to create a legal route for their migration abroad. They are also unaware of government action plans designed for their adaptation. Yet they are increasing demands for overseas jobs and training opportunities to become self-sufficient and resilient wherever they are.

But how far have we come in achieving the goals of the GCM? So far, he has taken the biggest step by calling on state parties to plan visa options for climate-vulnerable people. But there is still a long way to go to produce substantial policies and translate them into tangible benefits. The politics around climate migration remains an intractable problem. For example, at COP27, climate migration was not on the agenda. But can we discuss climate adaptation and loss and damage without even considering the need to create a global pathway for climate-vulnerable people? Adapting or building resilience will not be so easy if this part is missing.

Advocacy on climate migration at COP27 is an opportunity to influence wealthier countries to play their part. In addition to getting their affirmation or general commitment, we need to make them responsible for providing funding and technical support to establish safe pathways for overseas migration. The Government of Bangladesh can play an important role here by discussing legal frameworks to promote overseas employment for climate-vulnerable people in Bangladesh.

Shakirul Islam is the founding president of the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a grassroots migrant organization in Bangladesh.

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