Naomi Klein: US treatment of Haitian refugees is a sign of climate refugees' future

November 25, 2017

After an announcement from the Donald Trump administration that it is terminating temporary protections for about 59,000 Haitians who fled to the United States after a devastating 2010 earthquake, journalist Naomi Klein warns decisions by the United States and Canadian governments indicate how wealthy nations may handle climate refugees in the years to come.

Amid growing fears that the Trump administration would not renew their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) — a program allowing foreign nationals from a select list of countries to live and work in the United States — thousands of Haitian refugees have fled to Canada in recent months.

Writing for The Intercept, Klein details the experiences of multiple Haitian immigrants who have lived in the US for several years, but have recently made the journey to Canada in advance of Trump’s expected move. They crossed over into Canada at remote locations in spite of treacherous weather conditions.

Klein says: “There is a bigger picture to be seen here ... the climate connection.”

The thousands of Haitian refugees who came to the United States under TPS were not fleeing what was seen as a permanently unlivable island. The Trump administration is claiming — despite evidence to the contrary — that conditions in Haiti have improved enough that such protections are no longer warranted.

However, as the planet continues to warm, in large part because of major greenhouse gas emitters like the US, island nations such as Haiti will face increasing threats from rising sea levels and natural disasters that are intensified by warmer oceans.

Klein writes: “Because TPS — which singles out ‘environmental disaster’ as one of the key reasons a country would receive this designation — is currently the most significant policy tool available to the U.S. government to bring a modicum of relief to the countless people worldwide who are already being displaced as a result of climate change-related crises, with many more on the way.

“Little wonder, then, that Trump officials are rushing to slam this policy door shut...

“As the only U.S. immigration program that grants legal rights to migrants in response to environmental disasters, the fate of the program should be seen as a de facto test case for how the world's wealthiest country, and its largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, is going treat the coming waves of climate refugees.

“So far, the message is clear: Go back to a hell of our making.”

The decision to end protections for Haitian refugees came shortly after a similar decision to kick out about 2500 Nicaraguans from the program. They were granted protections after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

“Granting the right to live and work in the United States to some migrants from these countries has been an acknowledgement that people in lands rocked by sudden environmental crises have the human right to seek safety,” Klein points out. She suggests that despite Trump’s unapologetic climate change denialism, the impetus for the “Trump administration’s rapid-fire round of attacks on the program” could well be a desire to reign in that message.

“It’s a move that should be seen in the context of a pattern of actions that is simultaneously deepening the climate crisis (by granting the fossil fuel industry its wildest wish list), while eliminating programs designed to cope with the impacts of warming,” she concludes.

“In short, this isn’t only about Trump’s antipathy toward non-white immigrants (though it’s about that too); we may also be witnessing a particularly brutal form of climate change adaptation.”

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]

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