Protect displaced climate refugees after hurricanes

Increasingly strong hurricanes have displaced millions, and the U.S. has the resources to help.


In the last two years, the Caribbean has been hit with devastating hurricanes that are stronger than ever. I remember in 2017 when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and those places received little assistance from the United States. 

That same year, Hurricane Irma left hundreds of thousands of people displaced and homeless in the Caribbean, and severely damaged the islands’ infrastructure and public health, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

In 2018, there were an estimated 17.2 million new climate refugees, or individuals displaced by natural disasters, in 148 countries around the world, the United Nations reported. 

This year, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane and the strongest one to ever hit the Bahamas, left 70,000 people homeless, CNN reported.

In response to this disaster, we need to change how we treat climate refugees, welcome displaced individuals into our country and provide them with the necessary resources.

Our current immigration policy allows Bahamians into the U.S. without a visa as long as they provide a passport, proof of no criminal record and a pre-screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Washington Post reported.

But in a video circulating on social media, this policy was entirely ignored. The video depicts a crew member on a relief boat meant to take Bahamians seeking refuge to the U.S. denying access to those that couldn’t present a valid visa. He announced via intercom, “Please, all passengers that don’t have a U.S. Visa, please proceed to disembark.”

President Donald Trump responded to the incident during a press conference on Aug. 9, saying, “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and very bad gang members,” Vanity Fair reported. 

We’ve placed immigration politics before the safety of those in need, and as climate change becomes a greater issue, we need to address the unfair and unethical way we treat climate refugees.

Countries like the Bahamas bear the brunt of climate change, as it’s surrounded by water, and will be more adversely affected by climate-change-fueled natural disasters like hurricanes, CNBC reported.

“The majority of the carbon in the atmosphere comes from Europe and the United States,” said Fletcher Chmara-Huff, a geography and urban studies professor who’s researched the Bahamas fishery policy since 2001. “While we’ve had reductions, their per capita pollution and history of pollution cannot be compared to that of the Bahamas.”

After the tragedy in the Bahamas, people have to rebuild their lives but lack the funds to do so, and are thus blindsided when another natural disaster hits, CNN reported. 

“I was actually stuck in the last hurricane that hit the Bahamas [in 2003],” said Nastasia Aristide, a junior kinesiology and psychology major and TSG representative for the Organization of Afro-Latinas. 

“Seeing the destruction, even though I was still young, I remember seeing hut houses, everything picked up and carried away by the water and just devastation everywhere,” Aristide added.

“Being from the Caribbean myself, I know what a hurricane can do and the destruction it brings,” said Jahnel Williams, a senior music studies major and president of Temple’s Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness. “It takes a while for people to recover from that.”

“Islands don’t really have the resources that the U.S. or richer countries have, so when I hear about a hurricane, my concern is how prepared are the people?” Williams added.

As climate change continues to become a prominent issue in our lives, we’re going to see stronger, more deadly hurricanes hit vulnerable islands, which don’t have resources to recover.

Climate refugees will need shelter and resources, and the U.S. should alter their immigration policies to accept these people fleeing natural disasters. 

This is a pressing issue that requires an immediate solution.

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