April 21, 2022

Dr. Satchit Balsari joins “Five Minutes for the Future: A Texas Children & Families Series,” hosted by Children at Risk and Texas Family Leadership Council

Climate change and climate migration “rob our children of their most prized possession; hope,” said Dr. Satchit Balsari in the “Five Minutes for the Future: Texas Children and Families Series.” The virtual series is hosted by Children at Risk and Texas Family Leadership Council, two Texas-based research and advocacy organizations dedicated to addressing the root causes of poor public policies affecting children.

During the segment, Dr. Balsari provides three examples of distressed migration caused by climate change. He first examines the case of Syrian refugees in Jordan. In this context, he explains that refugees had one of two choices; the first being to stay in the camps erected by UNHCR, and the second to become self-settled in Jordan or the neighboring countryside. UNHCR’s refugee camps included classrooms led by members of UNICEF and had access to healthcare resources, however, the agency struggled to maintain consistent flows of funding and had limited work opportunities available to its occupants. In regards to self-settlement, many refugees who chose this path had to give up access to the services provided by UNHCR at the camps, making it much more difficult to access housing, healthcare, and educational services. Self-settlement also posed significant challenges for young girls, who were often married off at younger ages than they would have been in Jordan in order to establish a stable future. Neither the camps nor the self-settled options provided an opportunity for Syrian children to live a healthy, nourishing life.

Syrian children at the Za’atri refugee camp run by UNHCR in Jordan.
Image source: UNHCR (2012).

The second example Dr. Balsari noted were the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar in the southeastern Bangladesh. This camp now accounts for the largest refugee camp in the world. To escape prosecution in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees fled into Cox’s Bazar, in what was initially a UNHCR-operated camp. As more refugees fled from Myanmar to the Rohingya camps, Bangladeshi government officials refused to call the displaced Rohingya people refugees, instead referring to them simply as migrants. This denomination had significant repercussions, as it prevented formal access of health and education services from humanitarian aid agencies to refugees in need of such services.

The Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the largest refugee camp in the world.
Image source: CNBC (2021)

Due to the growing population of the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, subsequent waves of refugees began settling in rings around the original UNHCR camp. In doing so, the refugees established informal camps, which received no funding or resources from UNHCR, or became self-settled in nearby areas.

In March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, the government of India announced a nationwide lockdown that was planned to last 21 days but ended up being drawn out for nearly two and half months. The entire economy was brought to a standstill as movement became severely restricted, remarks Dr. Balsari. He notes that because the government made no plans to develop or expand food security within the nation, wage earners found themselves not only deprived of steady sources of income but also reliable access to food. As restrictions intensified, hundreds of thousands of migrants began relocating home and schools closed due to concerns of viral spread, marking a significant cultural shift within the country.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) puts up ‘Restricted Entry’ banners on the entrances of housing societies which have been marked containment zones. 
Image source: Ashish Kale, The Indian Express (2021).

Millions of households a part in India’s “informal economy,” or unorganized sector, which consisted primarily of manual labor workers, found themselves and their communities quartered off by local governments who referred to them as “containment zones” and hotspots for viral transmission. Families of five or more found themselves locked inside their one-room homes, with no food, income, or understanding of the public health implications of COVID-19. As schools moved curricula online, education for millions of children in India’s underclass became inaccessible. Just two years later, children across the country were mass-promoted to the next grade level without any plan to recoup the foundational blocks of science, math, and grammar necessary to advance academically. The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on children in India will only become apparent in years to come, says Balsari.

Migration fueled by the changing climate will likely culminate in a series of policies of promises to protect, refusal to let the vulnerable pass borders, and attempts at repatriation over forced return, says Dr. Balsari. He ellaborates that unless the most powerful governments around the world change course now — and they’re showing little signs of doing so — evidence shows that the impact of climate change on the hundreds and millions of people, including children, who will not find any remedy in forced migration will be impossible to bear.

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