Among the many activities we are carrying out during our the COP24, we stopped for a long time to discuss migration, climate phenomena and dignity with the journalist and university professor of UMESP (Universidade Metodista de São Paulo) and FAPCOM (Faculdade Paulus de Comunicação) in Brazil, Cilene Victor. Cilene, as a true teacher and activist, has informed us about one of the topics closest to her and now of global importance: internal migration.
Who, then, is an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) or internal migrant? IDPs are people who, like asylum seekers, are forced to leave their homes mainly because of conflicts or natural disasters. Unlike international protection seekers, IDPs do not leave their country of origin, but decide to look for a safe place within their state borders. The causes of this choice may be different, for example, not having economic and physical possibilities to make the trip or the willingness to stay close to home in case the situation improves in the future.
Being an IDP has serious legislative consequences, as unlike asylum seekers, they cannot obtain international protection, but have to rely solely on the help of their own government. For this reason, IDPs are among the most at risk groups among migrants. The real seriousness of the situation lies in the fact that, today, twice as many IDPs are present in the world as refugees, even though the latter are the focus of media attention.
The GRID 2018 (Global Report on Internal Displacement) is a document published by the IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), which every year provides information on internal migration due to conflicts and disasters in 143 states and territories. According to the report, in the year 2017, 30.6 million people from all over the world joined the already high number of internal migrants in that year alone. However, Chile has shown us that the most important finding in this report is that only 39% of migrants have been removed due to war and violence, while 61% have become displaced due to climate problems such as floods, cyclones, landslides, etc.
For this reason, the journalist focused her studies and research on the theme of Disaster Risk Reduction. The situation in Brazil is considered one of the most dramatic among the countries of Latin America, with a number of environmental displaced persons that amounts to 71,000 only in 2017 and a minimum of 5 disasters on average per year.
Cilene is particularly committed to showing through her reports how climate change is often overshadowed both by media attention and public opinion, and on the agenda of local and global policy makers.
For this reason, she mentioned various documents adopted by the United Nations, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a framework of rules adopted in 2015 in Japan that calls on states to reduce the loss of life and resources by investing appropriately in both disaster preparedness and emergency policies. Cilene has repeatedly stressed that many of the international discussions on the climate produce beautiful agreements that are not binding on the signatory states.
Cilene argues that change cannot be started by governments, but by ourselves: “Two years ago, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that we must look to the root of the problem and climate change is only one part of it”. According to the journalist, in fact, “the real problem is moral, it is the moral panic that society suffers and that the philosopher Stanley Cohen talks about, described as the lack of empathy towards others and the concern only about what happens in my life”.
The case of his Brazil shows us that many people are intolerant of the flow of Venezuelans pushing on the border, escaping from the Maduro government and the serious economic crisis and especially to the same poor Brazilians who move from one city to another because of the floods. “If you felt that climate change changed your life, then you would care”, she says.
For Cilene, therefore, it is not about lack of knowledge and information that pushes many countries towards anti-migration policies. Knowledge is there, but alone it is not enough. What is needed is understanding, a concept that goes far beyond mere knowledge of a phenomenon. Understanding as the feeling of belonging to the world, of the others´ condition. However, this is only possible if we put ourselves on the same level: we are too used to considering the condition of some countries affected by crises of various kinds as realities far from us.
Without hiding a certain emotion, she showed us a video of a woman displaced in Syria. “She was a teacher, just like me and I was a displaced person. In fact, her family had to move when she was only 2 years old, because the area north of Brazil where she lived was very poor and afflicted by a continuous drought.”
Even though people feel substantially far from the problems of climate change, there are signals that could help us to interpret climate change better, and attract the attention of people who are less concerned by its consequences. For example, in 2014, the severe drought in Sao Paulo, Brazil can be compared to a lesser extent to the situation in Rome, which, in recent years, has often risked having to close the taps to citizens.
“You must maintain your dignity, but your dignity is closely related to that of others. I have a very important role as a teacher and as a journalist and I am trying to spread this teaching.” Cilene greets us with a reminder that it is important to do what we can do and do now. “We are here not to change today but the future, but it always takes someone to start.”
Finally, we wish good luck to our Cilene Victor who will go to Marrakech on 10 and 11 December for the summit promoted by the United Nations, where the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) should be approved, a document that must give a global response to the phenomenon of migration. When we asked her if she was were concerned about the current political situation and the announced withdrawal of many states such as Italy and the U.S., as well as the policy of the new president of Brazil, Bolsonaro, and her response was: “I will go with much faith”. Cilene argues that it is precisely in response to words of hate and ignorance that other world politicians must intervene to highlight the truth and the need for solidarity not only for internal migrants, but also for all refugees. Leaders around the world, you have been warned: you should start fighting as Cilene is doing!