*This article is reprinted from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site that features research and opinion pieces authored by expert faculty from around the world – including experts at Boise State, like the piece below. Please note: opinion pieces authored by Boise State faculty do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution.
While it may seem that much of the world has been locked down during the past pandemic year, more than 80 million people are currently on the move – unwillingly.
International law offers refugees only limited protection. Mainly, it bars forcing them to return to the places where they were persecuted. It is quite difficult for refugees to attain adequate redress or relief.
We believe that countries offering safe harbor to refugees should have a legal option to sue the sending country for environmental damages. Such payments would help pay for some of the impacts of housing thousands of displaced persons, and could even provide some direct support to the refugees for their living costs.
Refugees strain resources
Imagine a million homeless people suddenly moving to your region without jobs, money, food or belongings. They would have myriad needs, starting with clean water, toilets, health care and food.
This is the situation in Bangladesh, where over 1 million displaced Rohingya have fled since August 2017 to escape violence in their home country, Myanmar. The resulting environmental damage in Bangladesh is unprecedented and massive.
Temporary makeshift housing for Rohingya has destroyed at least 3,713 acres of critical reserve forests as refugees cut trees for housing and fuel. As a result, soil erosion has increased dramatically. More than 100 tons of human waste and garbage has polluted canals and waterways, severely degrading local air quality. Camps have been constructed in areas that are habitat for Asian elephants, leading to clashes between humans and these endangered animals.
The limits of international law
Under current international law, a sending state that causes people to run away does not typically bear any financial responsibility. We believe it is time to hold governments that cause massive exoduses accountable for human and financial losses.