Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Legal Protections for Environmental Migrants: Expanding Possibilities and Redefining Success

Rathod, Jayesh

This working paper describes international and domestic efforts to enact legal protections for environmental migrants, with attention to Latin America, and examines why efforts to craft a comprehensive international instrument to address this phenomenon have yet to succeed. It details factors contributing to this impasse, including: the lack of an existing framework; the inherent complexity and variability of environmental migration; the trend towards restrictive migration policies; and the lack of a clear institutional leader at the international level. Citing the limits of an exclusive focus on the creation of a new international instrument, the paper also points to the need to recalibrate normative success as it relates to environmental migration. It advocates, instead, for a broader range of responses underwritten by a series of analytical shifts, including: the embrace of principles of responsiveness, flexibility, creativity, and ongoing information-gathering; simultaneous interventions at the local, national, regional, and international levels; and informed participation by affected migrants that reflects their goals and agentic capacity and transcends a pattern of reductionist victimhood.