Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bangladesh in Point of View

Geetisha Dasgupta
[is a graduate student at the SUNY, Binghamton]

A researcher of forced migration is continually plagued by concerns like tracing the roots of people, revisiting their origins through documents, narratives, interviews and lived experiences. We try to go back in history and situate people, persons in a particular cross section of time and space which we would coin as his/her home. Thus we try to initiate a homecoming of all those who have been ousted out, forced to move and move on. This continual struggle to transfix the moment called home often faces a crisis, where the researcher is single handedly constructing the past out of the remains, while forgetting that, it might be a ‘normalizing’ act, taking for granted that the past would be equally re-constructible for everyone. We forget that not everyone would like to visit their ‘roots’ on behalf of others.

From this again follows a second premise which shows that people have often ignored the margins drawn by regulatory forces and thereby taking it on history itself. The idea of nation has been challenged through maintaining porosity of borders on the levels of the community; therefore lending more weight to that level of existence which allows them the necessary freedom to subsist. Thus looking at the forced migration situation of India or Bangladesh can never be completed on an India OR Bangladesh OR Pakistan basis. One has to look at it on a holistic basis, keeping in mind the chain of events, the thread that connects all. This edition of our e journal is committed towards taking a look at forced migration situation of Bangladesh. But as will be evident from each of the articles, this is a forced migration situation of Bangladesh vis a vis India.

Priyanca Mathur Velath and Saba Hussain, in their article write about the informal Bangladeshi workers in and around the suburbs of Delhi. These are often undocumented people about whom there is a silence in the administrative structures of both the States as long as their independent histories go. Thus, people that provide the much needed links in the informal economy are termed as ‘illegal’, ‘poor’ and even ‘terrorists’. From there on, it goes deeper to talk about the problems in such situation of ‘silence’ and invisibility which generates a field work anxiety that a researcher faces in mining out the data base as well as the real people that contribute towards it.

Banjan’s article looks at the other side of the same coin, the influx of illegal immigrants especially from Bangladesh. The economic and environmental problems in their home country propel these migrants to explore the opportunities and resources in India and share the benefits of their labour with their families. Many of them receive patronage from political parties who want to accumulate them as vote banks. Despite the media hype and mass movement against immigration there are no figures available with the Government or any other agencies on the exact number of Bangladeshi migrants in India. This ambiguity in identifying the migrants weakens the government’s position in tackling the issue. She looks into the history that brought about the events like formation of separate nation states in the subcontinent and points out that the abnormality lies there itself. It was not nationalism that brought nation state here but quite the reverse.

Naser’s article talks about climate change and displacement, which we will read in the context of massive and sustained population outflows in the recent past out of Bangladesh due to environmental atrocities. He presents the picture rendered imperfect due to the lack of binding international protocols on controlling assaults on the environment and the debates that lead to inconclusive nature of national rules to govern the same.

Bangladesh’s Climate Displacement Nightmare

Scott Leckie, Zeke Simperingham and Jordan Bakker

While scientists and the international community endlessly debate and argue, millions of Bangladeshi citizens have already been displaced by climate change - for them the worst-case 'nightmare' climate scenario is already real

Climate displacement has arrived without mercy in Bangladesh. In Khulna district alone, some 60,000 Bangladeshi citizens have fled what has become permanent coastal flooding in the remote southwest of the country. With no option of returning home, and little access to new land thus far, these climate displaced persons (CDPs) are forced to survive on a 25 kilometre long, 2m high and 3-4 m wide embankment.

This desperate community in Dacope sub-district in Khulna has built rudimentary, makeshift shelters along the length of the levee that was originally designed to protect their now destroyed villages, land and homes. The levee failed, and all they now have are insecure and instable shelters perched precariously atop the embankment, surrounded by unruly water on both sides at high tide and at low tide by thousands of hectares of desolate muddy land that was once fertile paddy and farmland.

Living in this isolated and impoverished corner of Bangladesh, which borders on the famous Sundarban National Park, and completely segregated from political life in Dhaka (and the officials that could assist them in finding new land), the people of the delta see all too little hope or viable options for the future. Ninety-per cent of the CDPs are now without livelihoods, forced to live day by day from aid handouts and are unable to return to lives, land and homes that were completely obliterated by coastal erosion and storm surges. Nor do the displaced in Dacope see any solutions coming from the Government of Bangladesh any time soon, with officials seeming thus far resistant to suggestions that they may need to assist this and other climate-affected communities to relocate to safer areas and provide them with new land.

And as bad as things may be for the delta dwellers, this CDP community is only the tip of the displacement iceberg eating away at Bangladesh’s land and populace. Comprehensive surveys carried out in 2010 by over 200 community-based organisations and coordinated by the remarkable efforts of the Association of Climate Refugees, found that a staggering 6.5 million citizens (1.3 million households) of Bangladesh have already been displaced by the effects of climate change.

Uniquely vulnerable to frequent and severe river, rainwater and tidal flooding, Bangladesh today has the sad distinction of being the world’s most vulnerable country to climate displacement. While climate scientists, the international community and academics vigorously debate about the potential for climate change to affect future population displacement, the millions of Bangladeshi citizens already displaced by the effects of climate change are no longer simply waiting for solutions to their plight, and have begun to organise for climate justice and their basic human rights.

For them the worst-case future climate scenarios have already arrived; for them the future is now.

Earth’s Most Climate Vulnerable Communities

Bangladesh is a low lying, largely flat country with two-thirds of the country located less than 5m above sea level. Situated in the delta region of three of the world’s largest rivers - with a combined annual discharge second only to that of the Amazon – it is no surprise that Bangladesh suffers from catastrophic floods every year. According to government statistics, 25 per cent of Bangladesh is inundated every year and 60 per cent of the country suffers from severe flooding every 4-5 years. What makes the situation so dire now is that the flooded land in the delta is seemingly gone for good. In Khulna, the flood will simply not recede.

And yet, this is far from the extent of climate vulnerability in Bangladesh. The country is also hit by a severe tropical cyclone on average once every three years. These storms form in the months before and after the monsoon season and intensify as they move over the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. They are accompanied by winds of up to 150kph and can result in storm surges of up to several metres. As experienced by the 60,000 people crammed in miserable conditions on the embankments of Khulna, the results for housing, land, property and livelihoods are devastating.

Of the 160 million citizens of Bangladesh, it is the more than 50 million people who live in the most extreme poverty that are and will continue to be most affected by climate change. These are the people who are forced to live in remote, exposed and vulnerable locations – often on river islands and cyclone prone coastal regions - where the land is cheap but the risks are high. Of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, 24 are already severely affected by growing numbers of climate displaced persons.

As sure as the effects of climate change are in devastating lives and communities in Bangladesh today, it is also clear that the devastation is only going to increase in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that floods, tropical cyclones and storm surges will all become more frequent and more severe in the future due to the effects of climate change. The IPCC also forecasts even higher flows in the rivers that flow into Bangladesh from India, Nepal, Bhutan and China – as a direct result of increasing monsoon rainfalls and the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. Sea level rise as a result of global warming will also result in even more severe coastal flooding in Bangladesh as well as saline intrusion into rivers across the entire southern regions of the country.

The Need for Solutions to Climate Displacement

While the full impact of future climate change is notoriously difficult to accurately predict, it is clear that the 6.5 million climate displaced people in Bangladesh in January 2011 will be joined by many millions more in the future. The effects on communities and the devastation of lands and homes will only become more intense. It is clear that the future is not bright for the people of Bangladesh and equally that land-based solutions are required now.

As poor as they may be, under human rights law, these impoverished and marginalised communities are also the people most in need of having their housing, land and property rights respected, protected and fulfilled. Combined efforts to tackle the challenges of climate displacement with a renewed commitment to HLP rights just might hold out the best hope that CDP’s will a secured a future worth living. And this is precisely what the joint Bangladesh HLP Initiative of Displacement Solutions and the Association of Climate Refugees intends to do.

Despite the considerable efforts of the Bangladeshi Government to combat and address the effects of climate change – including the adoption of the 2005 Bangladesh National Adaptation Programme of Action and the 2009 Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan – the Government has yet to propose clear or practical land-based solutions for addressing the plight of Bangladesh’s current and future climate displaced people.

Though one of the pillars of the Bangladesh Climate Change Action plan is to 'ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable in society are protected from climate change', it is clear that the climate displaced communities living on the embankment in Khulna province and indeed the many millions more across Bangladesh, have thus far received all too little protection, safe housing, or access to basic services from the Government.

Enter the Association for Climate Refugees

Some 200 community-based NGOs throughout the country have recently banded together to form the Association of Climate Refugees (ACR) and to actively find solutions for the citizens of Bangladesh who have already been displaced by climate change. ACR’s founder and director, Muhammad Abu Musa, has chosen for himself one of the world’s more difficult tasks. For this jolly and remarkably optimistic 52 year-old Bangladeshi activist has dedicated his life in recent years towards the gargantuan goal of finding permanent and sustainable residential solutions to the millions of climate displaced people across Bangladesh. If predictions by the IPCC and others are correct, the sprightly Abu Musa will need to find new homes for a further 30 million displaced people in the coming years.

The ACR is focusing on capacity building and empowerment at the local level – directly among the climate affected communities themselves. ACR relies on partner organisations - grassroots activists in 24 of the country’s 64 districts, often working out of a single room in the middle of affected communities, to promptly relay first hand information about any developments in climate affected communities.

Abu Musa believes that it is the affected communities themselves who have the best knowledge and resources for self-protection and adaptation. He also strongly believes that having local communities own the problem is the only way for the Government of Bangladesh to listen to their plight – 'If we showed up as an NGO describing this problem, the Government door would be immediately closed, it is essential that the local communities take action themselves', he says with conviction.

The ACR plans to continue its work of monitoring climate displacement across Bangladesh and in the near future to implement a system of both emergency and permanent relocation out of climate vulnerable locations together with their international partners, in particular Displacement Solutions. ACR is aware that some CDPs have relocated to the distant Chittagong Hill Tracts (some 600 kms from Khulna), and in January 2011, ACR acquired a small land plot of 1.65 acres in Kamarkhola Union in Khulna district, donated by a local landowner sympathetic to ACR’s aims.

The land represents the first such acquisition of land for climate affected communities, and will be transformed into a community land trust aptly named 'Community Land Trust for Climate Displacement Solutions in Bangladesh'. This symbolic gesture, which will provide land solutions for some twenty families, will surely not resolve climate displacement in the country, but will hopefully inspire other landowners to donate larger pieces of unused land to assist in finding solutions to the dismal displaced population of Bangladesh.

Abu Musa and many others believe that the climate displacement solution for Bangladesh will frequently lie in relocation to safer areas, and not solely on building higher and higher embankment walls. Many of the 60,000 people on the embankment in Khulna province expect that in the next monsoon season the entire embankment will be under water and that they will have to move again. Accessing new and viable land will be the secret to ACR’s success.

What will the Future Hold?

The work of ACR is admirable and essential, but alone it is unlikely to be able to find land-based solutions for the climate-displaced people of Bangladesh. Similar to popular movements in other climate affected countries such as Tulele Peisa in Papua New Guinea, path breaking groups like ACR need to be able to work with much more than their currently meagre, shoestring budget. Funds from the newly established Green Fund under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (meant to reach 100 billion USD in coming years) need to be earmarked for groups such as ACR and Tulele Peisa to enable them to resolve the displacement caused by climate change.

It is essential for these groups and governments to band together to develop and clarify land-based solutions as rapidly as possible, before the already drastic situation becomes exponentially worse as the effects of climate change become more severe and more frequent.

Importantly, it is increasingly clear that the imperative to resolve climate displacement in Bangladesh is not only a matter of human dignity and human rights, but also one of security. The marginalised communities most affected by climate change may also be the most susceptible to influence by extremists. As a country with a large Muslim population, thus far largely spared the fundamentalist-driven ravages now so commonplace in Pakistan and elsewhere, some analysts have noted that the most disenfranchised and affected communities could turn to Islamic militantism – and transform Bangladesh into another breeding ground for violent fundamentalism.

Unless climate displaced persons are treated as the rights-holders that they actually already are, and enabled to access new housing, land and property, this looming security threat may become ever more real.

The international community now has an opportunity to address the immediate and future climate displacement crisis in Bangladesh. The world needs to capture the momentum of recent positive developments at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Cancun, where national, regional and international coordination and cooperation was encouraged in implementing planned relocation of climate displaced communities and where it was stated that human rights should be fully respected in all climate change related actions.

States across the globe should take heed of the climate displacement nightmare that is unfolding in Bangladesh, and at the same time focus on the emerging dream of durable land solutions for all. Land-based solutions to climate displacement can and should be identified now, and excellent community led groups – such as the Association for Climate Refugees – need to be sufficiently well resourced to be able to implement emergency and permanent relocation strategies. The Government of Bangladesh should also be encouraged – through bilateral, regional and international advocacy – to do more to respect the human rights of all people in Bangladesh, including the 6.5 million people already displaced by climate change.

The development of a National Plan to Resolve Climate Displacement, prepared jointly with civil society groups such as ACR, could go a long way to ensure a brighter future for the displaced millions in this country. The situation in Bangladesh is as clear a demonstration to the world as any that contrary to what many people still think, climate displacement is not a problem for the future – for 2020, or 2030 or 2050 – it is a problem now, and one that urgently requires solutions.
For further news please look at and The Ecologist at

Another Time: Coming up Another Occasion to Displace People

Geetisha Dasgupta

The Phulbari coal project in northwest Bangladesh is a proposed open pit coal mine and includes the construction of at least one 500-MW power plant. At full production about eight million tons of coal will be transported by rail and barges to an offshore reloading facility located in Akram Point. An additional four million tons will be exported to India via railway, and the remaining three million tons will be used for domestic energy consumption. Global Coal Management Resources plc. (GCM) operating through its wholly owned subsidiary, Asia Energy Corporation – Asia Energy Corporation is a single-purpose entity established to develop and implement the Phulbari coal project. On 31 December 2010, GCM stated that they will move forward with the Phublari project subject to the government’s approval of the Scheme of Development. The Bangladesh parliamentary Standing Committee on Power, Energy and mineral resources recommended that the country moves towards open cut mining methods of extraction. It was all good up until this.

The project will acquire almost 6,000 hectares of land (60 sq km) and, according to project documents and independent reports, will physically and economically displace between 50,000-220,000 people. This displacement will take place in one of the most densely populated countries in the world and will destroy a critical agricultural region in the country, threatening Bangladesh’s food supply. Over 80 percent of the land taken for this project will be fertile, agricultural land which will not be replaced, leaving farmers and families dependent on the land for their livelihoods with few options for employment. In short, the project would turn hundreds of thousands of farmers into land-less wage earners, competing for jobs in entirely different sectors.

In addition, if the project is implemented, the open-pit mine will destroy or displace: 1,577 ponds (used to earn income through sale of fish); 80,000 fruit and timber trees (plus many thousands of bamboo sticks); 928 businesses; 36,052 homes, barns, boundary walls and toilets; 106 schools; 48 health facilities; 138 mosques, temples and churches; 692 graveyards; and 2 ancient archaeological sites.
In order to keep the open-pit mine from flooding, the company will need to deplete the water table leading to water scarcity for communities around the mine area.

In addition to the impacts the project will have on water availability, it is likely that there will be significant contamination of land and rivers much beyond the mine area due to acid mine drainage. Hundreds of small rivers in the area are linked like a huge net, allowing polluted water to travel long beyond the mining footprint.

Another important environmental concern is that the project may lead to the degradation of the Sundarbans, a UNESCO protected mangrove forest because the coal will be transported through this area in barges. This forest is a habitat for the Bengal Tiger and many endangered species and also serves as a source of livelihood for fisherfolk and other communities dependent on the wetlands for sustenance. The Sundarbans also act as a natural barrier protecting the Bangladeshi people from the impacts of typhoons, floods and other natural disasters.

The grassroots resistance that has formed around the project has been met with egregious violations to human rights. In August 2006, the Bangladesh Rifles, a paramilitary force, opened fire on the 50,000 local people who were conducting a peaceful protest around the Phulbari project area. At least three people were killed, including a 14-year old boy, and over 100 people were wounded.
Following these protests, in January 2007, Bangladesh was put under emergency rule and a military-backed interim government took over in the country. In many ways, rule of law has been suspended in the country. Over the past 18 months, community leaders, individuals from non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders and others have been intimidated, threatened, arrested and tortured. As one example, in February 2007, Mr. S.M. Nuruzzaman, one of the leaders of the social movement in opposition to the project, was falsely arrested and subsequently tortured. The Bangladeshi ‘joint forces’ were reportedly directed by officials of Asia Energy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Global Coal Management, to arrest Mr. Nuruzzaman.

In Bangladesh, fewer women than men work in formal paid employment (57.2% vs. 89.8%), more women than men work in the informal agricultural sector (67.8% vs. 59.4%), more women than men are illiterate (67% vs. 48%), women generally lack property rights due to patrilineal inheritance laws, and they perform the majority of domestic care work.

Thus, the Phulbari Coal Project’s potential displacement of over 100,000 people from prime agrarian land, plus its plan to de-water the mine area (appx. 314 sq km.), would produce the following effects:
•migrant women and girls would be pushed disproportionately into flexible, exploitative work, including forced prostitution and human trafficking;
•women’s relative economic inequity would deepen as male property owners alone receive financial compensation;
•women and girls’ time poverty would increase as they shoulder care responsibilities for family members exposed to environmental hazards;
•women themselves would face increased risks of disease, including HIV/AIDS, as they collect water contaminated with arsenic or engage in unprotected sex work; and finally,
•women would face increases in gender-based violence as civil unrest, police brutality and community dissolution all rise.

Recently, there was a Wikileaks release stating that US diplomats are, and have been, pressuring the Bangladesh government to reopen Phulbari coal mine negotiations, which was closed due to protest. Now the bulldozers are warming up once more: any moment now the coal mine could be approved that would displace tens of thousands of families, destroy vital farmland, and devastate mangrove forests that protect the climate-fragile country from rising sea levels.

For more information look at

The Politics of Silence and ‘Invisibility’: Methodological Dilemmas of working with Undocumented Bangladeshi Migrants in Delhi

Priyanca Mathur Velath
[a member of APRRN, IASFM and an alumni of the CRG Winter Course on Forced Migration, Velath is currently completing her doctoral thesis on the rights of development-induced displaced persons in India at CSLG/J.N.U, New Delhi]
Saba Hussain
[(an alumni of the CRG Winter Course on Forced Migration, Saba is currently working as a social development consultant with a Delhi based consulting firm TARU. She has studied Sociology at Delhi University and Development Studies at London School of Economics]

Informal Bangladeshi workers, living in Delhi and its suburbs, have had many tags attached to them – ‘poor’, ‘illegal’ and lately also ‘terrorists’. These adjectives refer to the debates on poverty, illegal migrant and remittance flows and securitization of migration that have been heaped onto the Bangladeshi migrant flows into Indian soil post 1971. Recently intolerance and xenophobia have been added to the debates. (Ramachandran, 2004; 2005, Ramachandran and Crush, 2009)

Moreover, the conflation of the migrants with illegality, crimes and terrorism coincides with the larger urban security paradigm of segregation of the poor This phenomenon is amply illustrated by the policing and surveillance drives culminating into ‘clean-up’ of the poor, mainly floating migrant populations, being conducted in the run up to the recently concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2010 in Delhi. This article intends to revive the discourse on the fieldwork anxieties that emerge when research is attempted on them, by drawing upon the authors’ own experience of working with Bangladeshi migrants across slums in Delhi, before and after CWG.

Politics of ‘Silence’ and Inclusion

Undocumented population movements between Bangladesh and India have heightened the focus upon (in)security, and have forced most of the Bangladeshi workers to illegally acquire citizenship ‘proofs’ or documents. While all the members of the elder generation of Bangladeshis that had come into India post 1971 proudly showed the ‘ID Card’ that late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had issued to them, many in the younger generation claim to have been born on Indian soil. Majority of the Bangladeshi migrants encountered by the researchers had procured signifiers of citizenship such as – Voter ID Card, Ration Card and PAN Card that not only enabled them get certain state sponsored privileges but also the ability to contest claims of their ‘Bangladeshi-ness’. Seen in this way, the monolithic notion of being a citizen is being silently replaced by ideas of ‘becoming a citizen’ through not essentially formal or legal measures (i). The increasing demand for supply of cheap informal labour to the bourgeoning Indian middle class, in cities like Delhi and Mumbai, ensures a continuous ‘pull’ of their services as housemaids, rickshaw-pullers, people entrusted with recycling and garbage disposal, etc.

Number Politics

However, on an issue as commonly debated as this, the lack of any authentic data in terms of reliable numbers is striking for any social researcher. Putting a figure to the number of Bangladeshi migrants living in India is virtually an impossible task. The option of data sources available to the researchers range between the controversial figure of ‘20 million’ quoted by then Governor of Assam (Sinha, 1998, Indian Express 4th Oct 2009), 15 million (Dutta 2004) to a substantially lower 3 million (Census 2001 Report), 3.8 million (Buchenau 2008) to the other end of the spectrum where the Bangladesh government claims that “there is not a single Bangladeshi migrant in India” and maintains “India allowed the migrants to live in its territory for many years, even issued official documents, therefore, these migrants ought to be treated as Indian citizens” (Ramachandran, 2005). Besides, the number and inclusion game plays out when their ‘floating’ populations are used as pawns in vote-bank politics in states like West Bengal.

Working Amidst the Visible Symbols of ‘citizenship’

The problem of lack of data sets on undocumented Bangladeshi migrants in India is further complicated by the very dynamic of the relationship of the migrants with the Indian State. While transborder flows between India and Bangladesh question the idea of nationhood (Samaddar, 1999) and citizenship for the migrants, they also redefine the nature of encounters with the state.On one hand, the migrants themselves view the Indian state as the coercive force behind slum demolitions or periodic rounding-ups of young men for interrogation, and so on.On the other, the same state is seen as the protector or benefactor depending on how well it has been negotiated with.

The authors were constantly grappling responses that reflected the Indian-ness of the respondents. This often deflected the focus away from the areas of research interest around the myriad issues involving the process of ‘becoming Indian’--everyday encounters with the state, the moral economy of protection and patronage, (Chatterjee 2004) and their experience of living and working as migrant men, women and children. And in moments of covert national identity cementing exercises like the CWG in Delhi, the migrants and their groups develop an almost organic strategies to survive through strong information sharing networks, techniques of geographical segregation and camouflage including fake identities and names, adoptions of cultural symbols (like the bindi worn by the majority Hindu women), local dialects and so on. For a social researcher situation like these are equally both intriguing and challenging.

What was striking was that the first step towards inclusion invariably was a lie - on place of origin. The younger and newer migrants in Delhi insisted that their ‘home’ was in the districts of Malda, Nainital or the state of Assam in India. The older generation, resting on the confidence of their ‘Indira Gandhi I-cards’, were more open to revisit their memories of their ardous journey that had forced them to leave their homeland and seek a better life across its borders.

Politics of ‘Invisibility’ or Exclusion

Physical exclusion – pushed to the periphery
Ethnically dominated localities, usually mark all megacities, such as New York’s China Town or London’s South-Asian hub of South Hall. In case of Delhi also it wasn’t very difficult to broadly locate the areas inhabited by Bangladeshi migrants—Govindpuri slum, Nizamuddin Basti, Khadar Colony, Alisia Mor (in Gurgaon). These areas form the periphery of affluent urban (upper) middle class localities of South Delhi, Yamuna riverbank and the gated communities of Gurgaon, which are serviced by the workers from these peripheral localities-mostly slums. Within these slums too, many a times Bangladeshis were found to have been pushed to the outer margins, into lower class professions like waste-disposal e.g., the ‘kabaris’ in Khadar colony.(ii)

However, in the face of the challenges in separating ‘newer’ migrants from the older settled ‘refugees’ of 1971 and the challenges of handling the multiple dimensions of the undocumented-migrant experience, the process of identifying a correct sample became a herculean task. The migrant/settlers were eager to show us the receipts of their being interviewed by Census officials, as proof of their ‘Indian-ness’ but refused to divulge where their roots actually traced back to. Added to this was the anxiety of ‘security’ or ‘well being’ of the respondents (migrants or otherwise) given a heightened surveillance and policing around these locations. This further became agonizing when under state-induced duress they were all asked to shift away or ‘disappear’ from the city during the actual period of the CWG. Overnight guards and maids disappeared from households only to return once the games were over!

Summing up the field work anxieties
It was found that the traditional security perspectives do not offer much clues to understand the issue such as fragmented citizenship, constructed identities and the political economy of patronage and protection. Nor does it offer a humanitarian lens to understand the ‘human tragedy’ of undocumented migration. Based on the restricted experience of fieldwork with undocumented Bangladeshi migrants in Delhi, the authors feel that researchers can contribute towards a solution oriented discourse on undocumented migrants only by continuously deconstructing the politics behind the ‘voices’ and the ‘silences’, the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’.

*This article is part of a larger paper being written by the authors. It is based on field work conducted in 2010 that was part of a study of migrant remittance flows between India, Bangladesh and Nepal.


(i) This particularly effects people with questionable citizenship credentials or what is referred to as the ‘vernacular citizenship’ See Ajay Gandhi (2008), ‘Vernacular Citizenship and Everyday Governance amongst India’s Urban Poor’, Paper Prepared for Roundtable Discussion “Urban Planet: Collective Identities, Governance, and
Empowerment in Megacities”, sponsored by the Irmgard Coninx Foundation. For social researchers working with migrants populations particularly, these ‘vernacular citizenships’ lead to a wide range of methodological dilemmas.
(ii) For a larger study see Ankit Aggarwal, Ashish Singhmar, Mukul Kulshrestha, Atul K. Mittal (2004), ‘Municipal Solid Waste Recycling and associated markets in Delhi’ IIT Delhi.


Buchenau, J. (2008) ‘Migration, Remittances and Poverty Alleviation in Bangladesh – Report and Proposal’, UNDP Bangladesh.
Census of India 2001 - Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections Constituted by the National Commission on Population, May, (2006)
Chatterjee, P (2004) Politics of the Governed: Popular Politics in Most of the World, Columbia University Press.
Crush, J. and Ramchandran S. (2009) ‘Xenophobia, International Migration and Human Development’, Human Development Research Paper, UNDP.
Dutta, P. (2004) ‘Push-Pull Factors of Undocumented Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal” A Perception Study’, The Qualitative Report, Volume 9, No 2.
Ramachandran, S. (2005) Indifference, impotence, and intolerance: transnational Bangladeshis in India, Global Migration Perspectives, No. 42
Samaddar, R. (1999) The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal, Sage Publications Ltd.
Sinha, S.K. (1998) ‘Illegal Migration into Assam’, Report on Illegal Migration into Assam Submitted to the President of India

Climate Change and Forced Migration: An Overview

Mostafa Mahmud Naser
[is an Assistant Professor, Department of Law, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh and Ph.D. candidate, Macquarie Law School, Australia]


Forced displacement for environmental reasons is not a phenomenon unique to the present day. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, such migration mainly took place due to natural environmental degradation or catastrophe; such as floods, storms, hurricanes; or owing to scarcity of land resources. In the twentieth century, however, environmental degradation due to global climate change caused by human interferences with the ecology has tremendously increased natural disasters and calamities. Now natural disasters are ‘more intense and frequent and the human impacts are more devastating’. 1 Over the past two decades, the number of major disasters per year has increase from 200 to 400 major. 2 According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (hereinafter as IPCC), human-induced climate change will transform the ecological balance of the earth and lead to calamitous consequences for the human rights of millions of people all over the world. 3 The AR4 of the IPCC report concludes that climate change has already influenced ecological systems and this – with scientific certainty – is creating increased and frequency of natural events including floods, hurricanes, droughts, desertification, scarcity of water resources and unpredictability of seasons.4

Climate change induced displacement: no more prediction but a reality

Thus, the serious and rapid alteration of ecosystems by anthropogenic interference has direct and indirect impact on society which will ultimately lead to mass migration, both permanent and temporary. Human migration, forced or otherwise, will undoubtedly be one of the most significant consequences of environmental degradation due to climate change in decades to come. Many experts argue that large numbers of people are already on the move, with millions more expected to follow as evidence of climate change mounts.5 As early as in 1990 the IPCC argued that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration.

Currently, there is no global assessment of the statistics of environmental displacement since no international organisation collects information on persons displaced by climate change. 6 Nor is there much capacity in developing and least developed countries (LDC) or the international community to gather this sort of data.7 So, the existence and the scope of the issue of climate displacement are often established by reference to the likely numbers of displaced people. Based on a plausible range of emission scenario, current estimates typically range from 50 million to 1 billion, but is usually estimated to be around 200-250 million people by 2050, either within their country or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis owing to the direct impacts of climate change. 8 However, Professor Myers’ estimate of 200 million climate migrants by 2050 has become the generally accepted figure and is widely cited. 9 It would mean that by 2050 one in every 45 people in the world would have been displaced by climate change. 10 Thus, the number of future climate migration shows a terrifying figure, a ten-fold increase on today’s entire population of documented refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

However, numerous fundamental questions about numbers are being asked in scientific, policy and academic circles. 11 The available estimates, generally derived from the environmental academic Norman Myers, are massively contested. The key issue raised by the debate around the numbers of climate change displaced people is whether it is possible to predict with any degree of certainty the likely numbers and distribution of persons displaced by climate change. It is also criticised that such estimates have a large margin of error and mostly depend on underlying assumptions about population growth, economic development, temperature increase, or the degree and timing of climate change impacts such as sea-level rise. 12 The critics also argue that there is ‘no evidence that environmental change leads directly to mass refugee flows, especially flows to developed countries’.13 Migration researcher, Richard Black has criticised the ways of repeated presentation of numbers of environmental refugees by numerous authors as ‘without independent verification of its accuracy’. 14

Lack of international legal framework and importance of developing a new international framework

The climate change poses new challenges to international law. 15 With all the predicted dangers and future catastrophe, the existing international legal frameworks - including its laws and its institutions - do not adequately address the emerging crisis. The current international legal regime does not offer any concrete protection for the environmentally displaced people. There is no legally binding mechanism for protection of these persons. Even they are not yet recognised in international law as an identifiable group whose rights are expressly articulated, or as a formal legal category of people in need of special protection. Obviously this has important ramifications for assigning responsibility to appropriate domestic and international institutions and agencies to address the rights and duties concerned. Because the forced population displacement will induce very real legal, political, economic, human security, human rights, public health and conflict related concerns.16 The international community, specially the developed countries, are both legally and ethically responsible to ensure protection of human rights of this vulnerable section of people.

One solution to the current inadequacy of legal responses is to develop a new international agreement that specifically recognise the plight of individuals forced to leave their homes, families, friends, and livelihoods for environmental reasons. The Convention would establish an international regime for the status, treatment and protection of climate change displaced persons. The new independent convention would prioritise the large and emerging problem of climate change displacement. 17 It would also reflect the underlying issues raised by the climate change displacement problem and fill the legal gap with the specificity states and communities need. This instrument should ensure that climate change displaced persons receive adequate assistance in the form of human rights protections and humanitarian aid. It should also establish an administrative system to implement the elaborate regime in a fair and efficient manner.

Conclusion: Towards a New Legal Framework for Climate Induced Displacement

It is increasingly evident that the numbers of environmentally displaced people are growing at a rapid rate. This vast number of people is largely left unprotected in current refugee regime. States around the world have contributed to or have been affected by climate change. So, the displacement associated with it requires international attention. Since the nature of climate change is global and humans play a contributory role, the international community should accept responsibility for mitigating climate-induced displacement. 18 States should develop an innovative, international, and interdisciplinary approach that can be implemented before the situation reaches a crisis stage.

In recognizing the problem of climate change displacement, this paper has highlighted the present lacuna within the international legal system in terms of effectively recognising and responding to the needs of climate induced displacement. One solution to the current inadequacy of legal responses may be developing a new convention that provides both assistance and protection to environmentally displaced persons and creates affirmative obligations for states to prevent the environmental disasters that force displacement. The new instrument could help alleviate the emerging climate change displacement crisis.


1.António Guterres, ‘Climate Change could Become the Biggest Driver of Displacement’, (Speech delivered at the press conference at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark, 16 December 2009. available at at 02 March 2009.
2.David Adam, ‘Food Prices Threaten Global Security – UN’ The Guardian, (United Kingdom), 09 April, 2008. <> at 03 March 2010.
3.See, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers (2007) 12. <> 12 September 2009.
4.See, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers’, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report (2007).
5.Achim Steiner, ‘Foreword’, (2008) 31 Forced Migration Review, 4.
6.Vikram Odedra Kolmannskog, ‘Future Floods of Refugees: A Comment on Climate Change, Conflict and Forced Migration’ (Norwegian Refugee Council, 2008) 13- 14.
7.Tess Burton and David Hodgkinson, Cliamte Change Migrants and Unicorns: A Discussion Note on Conceptualising Climate Change Displaced People, The Hodgknson Group – Climate Change and Aviation Advisors (Publications) 8 at 23 July 2009.
8.See generally, Norman Myers, ‘Environmental Refugees in a globally warmed world’, (1993) 43(11) BioScience 752.; Norman Myers, ‘Environmental Refugees: An Emergent Security Issue’, 13th Economic Forum, Prague, 23 – 27 May 2005; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). Christian Aid, ‘Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis’ (Christian Aid, 2007), 50.
9.Oli Brown, ‘The Numbers Game’ (2008) 31 Forced Migration Review, 8.
10.From a predicted global population of 9.075 billion in 2050 from 6.54 billion in at an annual growth rate of 1.1%
11.Camillo Boano, ‘FMO Research Guide on Climate Change and Displacement’ (FMO Research Guide, Forced Migration Online (FMO) 2008) 13.
12.For criticism of such estimates, see A. Suhrke, ‘Environmental Degradation and Population Flows’, (1994) 47(2) Journal of International Affairs, 478.; Stephen Castles, ‘Environmental Change and Forced Migration: Making Sense of the Debate’, (New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper No. 70, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2002) 2–3.; and Richard Black, ‘Environmental Refugees: Myth or Reality?’ (New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper No 34, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2002), 2–8.
13.Stephen Castles, ‘Environmental Change and Forced Migration: Making Sense of the Debate’, (New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper No. 70, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2002) 2.
14.Richard Black, ‘Environmental Refugees: Myth or Reality?’ (New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper No 34, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2002), 1.
15.The Legal Status of Environmental Refugees, available at
16.Displacement Solutions, Meeting Report on Climate Change, Human Rights and Forced Human Displacement (2008), 11.
17.Bonnie Docherty and Tyler Giannini, ‘Confronting a Rising Tide: A Proposal for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees’ (2009) 33 Harvard Environmental Law Review, 349-403, 397 -- 401.

Nationalising Space: Coming to Terms with Rights of Migrants

Vanita Banjan
[is at the Dept. of Politics, SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Sion (W), Mumbai 400022]

The migration narrative unfolds the manner human development has transpired and mankind benefited. Migration is an age old phenomenon but the modernization paradigm hypothesized that it is the rise of industrialisation and thereby urbanisation which encouraged migration on a large scale. 1 Post industrialisation the world saw the rise of nation states and its territorial limits demarcated with rigid borders erected around ethnocultural communities residing within. Having created the territorial reality brought in tow the legal paraphernalia for naturalisation and immigration. But in this process it was forgotten that the decision to migrate was connected to the value of freedom, the right to choose where one wants to live or settle. Today all those who choose to move from one country to another are labelled as immigrants, though there is no agreement on the time one needs to spend in the other country to be identified as a migrant. Borders are today open for free flow of trade and capital but there is a barrier imposed on mobility of migrant labour, and that is the reason the matter has invoked so much deliberation world over. Though migration is a well researched topic in the North, it is only in the recent years that it is being discussed in the South, especially the South-South migration.

The nations in South Asia are comparatively young having won their independence in the 20th Century and are classified as developing nations. Comparatively India is territorially large and better off nation in the South Asian region and draws immigrants from the neighbouring states. Thus the paper focuses on the influx of illegal immigrants especially from Bangladesh. Considering the economic and environmental problems in their home country these immigrants hope to explore the opportunities in India and use their talents with the resources here and share the benefits of their labour with their families. Many of them receive patronage from political parties who use them as vote banks. Despite the media hype and mass movement against immigration there are no figures available with the Government or any other agencies on the exact number of Bangladeshi migrants in India. This ambiguity in identifying the migrants weakens the government’s position in tackling the issue. Today the matter is highly politicised and no political party is interested in resolving the matter but without fail each party tries to benefit from it either by supporting the migrants and generating a vote bank or sensitising the people against it and garnering vote on the basis of the fear so generated. Most nations treat immigrants as criminals, the paper tries to explore a golden mean between a humane approach to the undocumented migrants while maintaining the states responsibility of to its citizens and sovereignty.

Generally it is difficult to measure illegal migrants in a country but despite that it is estimated that it comprises of 10 per cent or greater of all migrants. Illegal or undocumented migration is a response to the legal restrictions at the borders, whenever the legal avenues of migration are constrained the illegal migration swells. 2 The demographic changes in the border districts of Assam and West Bengal and the corresponding clamour of various agencies including the media resulted into the much awaited action of the Central government on fencing of the border area. Crores of rupees were spent on the construction of the fences but certain areas still remain unfenced. Fencing might have reduced border crossing but has not stopped it completely. The cultural connectivity between the two nations and its citizens cannot be exterminated by artificially created fences or walls.

To understand the augmentation of undocumented Bangladeshi migrants and the violent reaction to them one has to glance in the past and trace the genesis of the problem. Since the days of partition, West Bengal and Assam has seen the onslaught of millions of refugees which aggravated during the creation of Bangladesh. India stoically sustained and supported the refugees with the hope that they would return once Bangladesh was created. . But under the Indra- Mujib treaty those who came to India before 25 March 1971(the day Bangladesh was created) were granted citizenship. 3 But the influx refused to stop that is when the borders started becoming rigid to the extent that most of it today stands fenced.

“People flee, primarily, not to wealth, but from poverty” 4. Global warning and the climate change is taking its toll in this country in the most ruthless manner. Every monsoon the flood in the Brahmaputra swallows up villages destroying homes and property creating ‘Mohfiz’. 5 Land is guzzled by the river rendering landowners as landless labourers. Thus the Bangladeshis are largely escaping from the environmental onslaught and find India as a viable alternative where land is fertile; there is a demand for cheap labour and if they manage to cross the border without getting caught they are assured of survival.

The instinct to survive forces a Bangladeshi to move but the immigration rules constitutes an obstacle. But if legal immigration is not possible there is always the alternative of entering illegally or overstaying and being harboured by relatives or friends who have come earlier. 6 As they develop entitlements in India, it becomes difficult to distinguish an immigrant from a citizen. Eventually when they start staking political claims it may undermine the legitimacy of the government and the sovereignty of the state. There are reports that few of these immigrants have won elections in some of the border districts of Assam. Secondly, most of these immigrants vote enbloc which plays a decisive role in the election of candidates to the legislative bodies.

The rise of nation state bought in tow the term of nationalism and nationality. In order to provide security it became essential to identify citizens and construct demographic regimes. Everyone was expected to have only one nationality and it would provide the individual with a measure of protection in a hostile anarchic world of nation-states. Under international law states are not required to admit aliens. But if they do, they are obliged to treat them in humane and civilized manner. Illegal migration puts the nation state in a quandary as they enter without documents or permission and once in, the receiving state is bound by the international norm of ‘non refoulement’. 7 India has no immigration policy whatsoever; hence there is much ambiguity in tackling the case of arrested migrants. When a few of those who are arrested while crossing the border with no authentic document are to be deported, Bangladesh refuses to admit them, forcing an inhuman modus operandi of ‘push back’. In case of Assam, the IMDT Act has failed to detect the illegal migrants, which is discernible by the frugal number of deportations. More over the police cannot be compelled to fritter their energy into the futile exercise of preparing cases against immigrants and on the issuance of the ‘Quit India’ notice they escape from their place of residence to unknown destinations, probably never to be caught again. The Indo-Bangla border is infested with touts, they arrange for the crossing of the borders for an amount, ensuring safe passage, in connivance with the BSF. Locals at the border area also indulge in providing hiding place for such immigrants for a day or two till it is safe for them to move on, for a cost. Over the years the network is well established and has become a matter of routine for all parties involved namely immigrants, locals, touts, BDR and the BSF.

Migration is a two way process it affects both the sending country and the receiving country. For the sending country it is less responsibility on the state to fend for the poor labourers who are a burden on the exchequer but it also means remittance in the long run. Remittance sent back to home country are a source of foreign exchange and important addition to gross national product . 8 This is especially true of the migrants from South Asia to the Gulf; there are instances of how states like Kerala have flourished due to petro-dollars. Though there may not be similar remittance for a Bangladeshi migrant working in India but nonetheless it is better than the starvation or destitution he faces at home. Moreover he has nothing to lose, if he manages to cross illegally he can earn enough to sustain himself and his family but if he gets caught even then he is well taken care of by the Indian jail authorities.

Migrants are often alleged of stealing the job from the locals and reduce the wage below acceptable level. While most of them are able to earn enough for a decent living they are assumed to take away the jobs of the local. These migrants have been forced out of their country for economic reasons and come with an understanding that they have to work hard to survive and do so, for this very reason they are preferred over the locals. Moreover locals haven’t been very enterprising but get jealous when the migrants do well. The resentment due to jealousy against the immigrants was experienced in the Nellie killings in Assam. 9

The ground reality is that if the locals could do the jobs then there would be no opportunity for migrants but because locals refuse to work as farm labourers, construction workers, or cycle rickshaw puller the immigrants are absorbed in. Moreover the immigrants are offered jobs, often knowingly, by locals for the lure of cheap labour. Immigrants have no option but to work hard and thus are ready to go an extra mile to ensure employment; this has been grudgingly acknowledged by locals themselves. Furthermore, since most of the immigrants would be absorbed in particular occupations it would get a social label as “immigrant’s job” resulting into a general denial by locals of taking it up. 10 Hence the liberal paradox: the economic logic of liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure.11


Migration is not a norm but a deviation and hence has to be treated accordingly. Taking residence abroad is an exception not a rule. It is estimated that around 175 million people around the world are international migrants, which is just 2.3 per cent of the world’s population. Furthermore, migration doesn’t occur in isolation but sprints parallel to movements of commodities and capital. Though the figure doesn’t necessitate the pressing of the panic button today, it is fitting to predict that the twenty first century is going to be the age of migration.12 Thus the norm prevalent in the modern age of nationalising space for citizens needs to be set right in the post modern era where walls are crumbling under the influence of globalisation and people prefer to be mobile. The phenomena of migration will continue as long as the difference in development and economic opportunities between nations remains as wide as it is. Migration in itself is not a crime, but they are victims of circumstances and in need of protection. 13

Rights conferred on citizens are product of their membership of the nation state. Citizenship is a privilege and denotes exclusivity of those who belong to a nation. The traditional nation state retains the primary powers to grant citizenship and as long as this exclusivity is maintained migrants will continue to remain at the periphery without rights. Citizenship is determined by decent and there are no criteria or task to be performed by a citizen to retain it. Pursuing the line of providing human security each nation facing the issue of migration has to undertake an obligation to share this privilege with migrants. Save for the rights of refugees’ recognised by International community there are no legal guidelines provided for migrants. But the recent development on international human rights law have helped to solidify the position of individuals vis-a-vis the nation-state, to the extent that individuals have acquired a sort of international legal personality, leading some analyst to speculate that we are entering a post national era characterised by universal personhood. 14 In this postnational model, universal personhood replaces nationhood; and a universal human right replaces national right. Thus the individual transcends the citizen 15.

As the Swiss novelist Max Frisch pointed out at, the European governments had ‘asked for workers, but human beings came’. Unlike goods or capital, migrants (qua human beings) can and do acquire rights, particularly under the aegis of the laws and constitutions of liberal states, which afford migrants a measure of due process and equal protection 16.


1.Christiane Harziq and Dirk Hoerder with Gabaccia Donna (2009) What is Migration History? Cambridge, Polity p.1.
2.Anthony M. Messina and Gallya Lahav (Ed) (2006), Migration Reader: Exploring Politics and Policies, Viva Books Private Limited, New Delhi, p.10.
3.The Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace was a 25-year treaty that was signed on March 19, 1972 forging close bilateral relations between India and the newly-established state of Bangladesh.
4.An observation made by an interdepartmental study group set by the Swedish Ministry of Labour in 1990.
5.Mohfiz is the wretched of the earth. The term is taken from Sanjoy Hazarika (2000) Rites of Passage, Penguin Books, New Delhi.
6.Han Entzinger, Marco Matiniello and Catherine Wihtol De Wenden (Ed) (2004) Migration Between States and Markets, Aldershot, England, Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. XV.
7.The principle of "refoulement" was officially enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and is also contained in the 1967 Protocol and Art 3 of the 1984 Torture Convention.
8.Anthony M. Messina, Op. cit. p. 27.
9.In 1983 the political, economic and social foundation of Assamese society collapsed resulting into Bengali migrants being brutally massacred by the hundreds, sparing none women, children and men alike.
10.Anthony M. Messina, Op. cit. p. 49
11.Han Entzinger Op. cit. p. 4.
12.Castles Stephen and Miller Mark J. (1998) The Age of Migration, London, Macmillan Press Ltd., 2nd Edition. p. 5
13.Anthony M. Messina, Op. cit. p. 27.
14.Han Entzinger, Op.cit. p. 14.
15.Nash Kate (ed) (2000) Readings in Contemporary Political Sociology, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers. p. 269.
16.Han Entzinger, Op.cit. p. 11.