Climate refugees are welcome

Migrants fleeing climate catastrophe should be welcomed - with the money for walls and weapons invested in our essential services instead.

New police water cannons were sent to the Mandra fires due to an absence of firefighting equipment - an obvious demonstration of misplaced priorities.

The hottest month on record - what UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has termed the beginning of an era of “global boiling” - affected us all. But it did not affect us all equally. 

Extreme weather forces people to move. That can be very short-term, such as those forced to cut short their holidays in Greece due to the heatwave or the deadly fires

It can be more serious, such as the residents of towns northwest of Athens or on Evia who have been forced to flee their homes and seen their livelihoods destroyed for the second year running. And often worst-affected are migrants, asylum seekers and those already displaced. 


In Lagadikia reception centre in Northern Greece, inhabitants reported broken air conditioning, a heightened risk of mosquito-borne diseases matched with inadequate medicines, and water shortages.

Reports from the NGO Inter-European Humanitarian Aid Association (IHA) state that 100 new people have been transferred in the last week meaning the camp is almost at full capacity which will only serve to exacerbate the existing issues. Meanwhile on Lesvos, people complain of the unbearable heat inside their plastic tents.

This compounds an already dire situation: in 2020 the infamous overcrowded Moria camp in Lesvos burned down. At the time, EU Home Affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson pledged there would be "no more Morias". 

Instead, asylum seekers were transferred to Moria 2.0 - tents in a former shooting range - where they have suffered this year’s heatwave in dire conditions.

Elsewhere, it has been two years since Greece began opening new EU-funded centres that resembled prisons more than places for people in need of safety; sites far from amenities, covered in rolls of barbed wire, and blanketed by high-tech surveillance. 


News from I Have Rights, an organisation operating on Samos, speaks to a total lack of shade on the site there, forcing people to shelter in containers.

No additional water is being distributed despite intense heat, and problems remain with running water in parts of the camp with water being cut for three hours in the day and five hours overnight. The all-new ‘reception centre’, which cost the EU public purse 43 million euros, is inadequate to provide even basic protection and amenities. 

This raises a second point: it is not only that those who already have to deal with the consequences of violent border policies are doubly hit when climate disasters strike. The decision to prioritise border control puts us all at risk. 

New police water cannons were sent to the Mandra fires due to an absence of firefighting equipment - an obvious demonstration of misplaced priorities.

In Greece, fire services have been cut to the bone year on year, and under EU austerity measures, in spite of the known lethal fire risks, while new EU funding has been poured into violent border control and repressive domestic policing. 

In one incident, new police water cannons had to be sent into the Mandra fires due to an absence of firefighting equipment - in what could not be a more obvious demonstration of misplaced priorities. 


In fact, for the year 2023 the Greek government allocated €1.7 million for the fire department and €50 million for the police department, excluding the Hellenic Coast Guard, in spite of widespread fires last summer that highlighted vulnerable weak spots in Greece’s preparedness for such incidents.

Both in Europe and beyond, climate change is having more and more of an impact on displacement. Whether it’s a bad year for a village dependent on the proceeds of a vineyard, or a chronic shortage of water and essential food, or the impact of extreme weather on places already affected by poverty and conflict, climate is a growing factor in people’s decisions to move.

Earlier in June, a boat containing several hundred people sank off the Greek coast. It is now an infamous tragedy and the subject of several inquiries into the conduct of border forces, following increasing evidence that the Greek coastguard (which cooperates closely with EU border force Frontex) was involved. 

Many of those on board were fleeing countries increasingly riven by environmental crises such as those in Pakistan, India, and northern and sub-Saharan Africa. 

The response to such a situation cannot, and should not, be more weapons and walls. And yet that is where we are currently. 


The European Union has just signed off on another 15 billion euros for increased border spending, and Frontex is becoming the largest agency in the bloc, with an elevenfold funding increase since its first year of operation.

Countries across the Global North spend up to sixteen times as much on new border infrastructure as they do on climate finance for those who need it. 

Even well-meaning figures such as Antonio Guterres have referred to climate-linked migration as a “biblical exodus”, raising the spectre of faceless, nameless huge numbers of “invaders'' moving rather than people in need of humanitarian support to make their journeys safer. 

Such controls do not address migration emergencies but in fact create them. The fear narrative of the “invader”, not the reality of migration, creates the need for a European army like Frontex, and ever-increasing border spending. 

The EU claims it is engaged in a fight against smugglers. But smugglers are only able to profit in an environment where safe pathways do not exist. 


And European policy exacerbates rather than reduces the harms done by smugglers. European governments - and no-one else - are to blame for delayed or hamstrung search and rescue operations, the criminalisation of those expressing solidarity with people on the move, and flawed deals with states known to continuously violate fundamental rights like Libya and Turkey, where their allies include those who profit from smuggling. 

The recent EU deal with Tunisia to prevent people migrating northward involves pouring funding into the border forces of a state which Human Rights Watch has documented as responsible for severe abuses of people on the move - including torture. 

The aim is to control movement no matter the human cost - whether its Libyan border guards discovering bodies in the desert after mass expulsions from Tunisia, or the daily shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. 

As always, it is the provision of safe pathways, and support for both people on the move and their host communities, which can instead make movement a more manageable, or indeed positive, experience for all involved. 


Climate change affects us all differently. But it does affect us all. So instead of doubling down on border violence to insulate richer countries from the impacts of the climate emergency, we should focus on solving our common problems. 

Europe and the Mediterranean could, instead of being the site of the world’s deadliest border, be a place that provides global leadership on how to manage climate consequences. 

The European Green Deal has already made some significant strides on climate action. It could replace political obsession with border control as the primary driver of external policy - from support for emergency services, to long-term programmes protecting livelihoods and restoring environments, to systematic support for those who need to move, to investment in greening the EuroMed region. 

In the current environment, this may seem a long way off. Climate denial and inaction, and border violence, are both pushed in Western politics by a powerful hard-right backed by a for-profit lobby that has much to gain from the status quo. 


One need only look at the UK Conservatives’ current simultaneous focus on watering down net zero plans whilst announcing new oil and gas licences, and attacking migrants in the English Channel - or the EU right bloc’s twin aims of attacking green legislation and garnering funding for lethal border technology, to see where their priorities are. 

The priorities of progressives need to be equally clear. If there is a time to make tough demands, it is in response to the hottest month on record, and potentially in tens of thousands of years.

The climate movement must continue to demand a rapid and just green transition to address the most pressing global challenge of our age, that prioritises the needs of those most marginalised, and most at risk from climate consequences.

Part of that is ensuring that all of us - no matter where we were born - are protected from the consequences of a warming world that are already here.

These Authors

Adla Shashati is the director of Greek Forum of Migrants. Hope Barker is a senior policy analyst at the Border Violence Monitoring Network.