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Special Report: What will become of Bangladesh’s climate migrants?

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Plans to deal with it are embryonic, however. A task force on displacement under the auspices of UN climate talks had its first meeting in May. Its work plan grapples with patchy data and institutional clashes. There is no ready source of financial support directed at climate migrants, nor do they have any protected status under international law if they cross borders. In most cases, climate migrants are not easy to distinguish from economic migrants: they arrive looking for work. The welcome they receive hinges more on the value of their labour than any duty of care to the climate-afflicted.

In Khulna, the third largest city in Bangladesh and regional capital of the southwest, technical education was as important as buildings in accommodating the people who arrived after Cyclone Aila and myriad smaller crises. A pilot offering vocational training – phone repair, welding, sewing – to new arrivals recently marked its first 25 graduates. Eight of the city’s 278 slums are in line for infrastructure upgrades, funded by German development banks. “It is not enough,” admits city mayor Moniruzzaman Moni, holding court at his “club” one evening.

“A large number of people, they are moving to Malaysia, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. These are climate-affected people.“

At between 2 and 4 metres above sea level, enmeshed in the Ganges-Brahmaputra river delta, Khulna is only marginally safer than the coastal villages. When heavy rainfall coincides with the high tide, water washes through the streets. “Khulna is one of the most vulnerable cities in Asia,” says Moni. “This is because of climate change. Fifty years ago, the situation was not like this but now it is changed.” As though to demonstrate, during the half-hour audience rain lashes down and a large puddle forms outside the door. Bricks are laid out to step across to dry road. Moni hopes that his grandchild will be able to stay in Khulna, where his family has lived for generations. But it will require “major projects” to keep the rising sea at bay. Meanwhile, he cannot deny the trend for outward migration. “A large number of people, they are moving to Malaysia, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. These are climate-affected people. Officially, we have the number, but unofficially more and more people are going.”

[This report originally appeared on]

This report was written by Megan Darby from Climate Home as a special feature story in Khulna, where the interviews were conducted.

Photo credits (in order of appearence): Khulna Riverfront, Bangladesh | William Veerbeek/ [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]; Rice plantation in Khulna | Mike Lusmore, WorldFish/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); | David Stanley/ [CC BY 2.0]; Bangladeshis on margin of river in Khulna.