Refugee and internally displaced populations, environmental impacts and climate risks
10 May 2021 to 19 May 2021
Background Papers

A Primer on Refugee-Environment Relationships

Webinar to kick-off the cyberseminar took place on May 10, 2021.

Invited Experts

Mohammad Jalal Abbasi Shavazi
Professor, Department of Demography, University of Tehran; President, Population Association of Iran; Council Member, International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), Iran

Ellen Percy Kraly
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Colgate University, USA

(Paper co-authored with Mohammad Jalal Abbasi Shavazi)

Andrew Kruczkiewicz
Senior Staff Associate, Columbia University and Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, USA

Stefan Lang
Associate Professor, Head Christian-Doppler Lab GEOHUM, Department of Geoinformatics (Z_GIS), University of Salzburg, Austria

Catherine Nakalembe
Assistant Research Professor, University of Maryland, USA

Hadi H Jaafar
Associate Professor, American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Geoffrey Kateregga
Geospatial Information Service (GIS) Lead and Community Programs Manager, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Uganda

Nyamori Victor
Researcher/ Adviser - Refugee and Migrants Rights Team, Amnesty International, Kenya



Jamon Van Den Hoek (Oregon State U.), David Wrathall (Oregon State U.), Susana Adamo (CIESIN, Columbia U.), Alex de Sherbinin (CIESIN, Columbia U.)

Co-sponsors: GEO Human Planet


Since 2015, the global refugee population has risen precipitously, reaching a record 26 million people across 135 countries. Forcibly displaced due to violent conflict and political persecution, refugees seek asylum and security abroad but have often found highly restrictive conditions. Refugee camps are often established in marginal borderlands, and state policies can restrain access to arable land and inhibit decision-making power over livelihoods and employment. Refugees have less agency and resources available for local climate change mitigation or adaptation. Refugee mobility is often confined to within camp boundaries, restrictions that have generally been tightened even further during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Refugees are also broadly excluded from Sustainable Development Goal progress reporting and national census data collection even in major refugee hosting countries, which implicitly discourages sustainable development initiatives for and by refugees. These challenges are hardly short lived. The average stay in a refugee settlement was 10 years as of 2015, and more than two-thirds of refugees experience what the UNHCR calls a “protracted refugee situation” in which refugees remain in limbo for years on end, unable to return home but without provision of basic rights and access to economic and social services in their host country. Added to this are large and growing internally displaced populations (IDMC 2020). 

The combination of geographic and social marginalization, protracted confinement, and an overarching absence of refugee populations in nationally representative data heightens the potential for local environmental degradation and long-term climate vulnerability for generations to come. Perhaps because of the focus on addressing immediate humanitarian needs of refugees, there has been far less attention toward understanding long-term refugee relationships with their environment and climate hazards. This cyberseminar will focus on new perspectives and innovative methodological approaches from geography, remote sensing, economics, disaster studies, and development studies that shed light on the environmental and climatic challenges faced by refugees, as well as impacts of camps on the local environment, and will offer potential solutions for addressing these challenges. With scholars and practitioners from around the world and considering a range of case studies, we will examine the interplay between refugees, the local environment, and climate change against the broader social and political contexts that frame these relationships. Field-tested approaches and analyses will commingle with nation-wide Big Data studies to offer a diversity of perspectives across geographic scales and regions. As such, this cyberseminar will provide a platform for dynamic engagement between different communities to advance our collective understanding and shared perspectives on refugee population-environment relationships in a changing climate.