Finding Agency in Adversity: Applying the Refugee Convention in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article argues that, as individuals are already applying for refugee status in the context of disasters and climate change, a robust understanding of why disasters happen and how different groups are affected, combined with a principled methodology for determining such claims, are critical aspects of the anxious scrutiny that each claim should receive. The limitations of the “hazards” paradigm, which is shown to be dominant in international refugee law, are highlighted. Adopting the “social” paradigm developed within the field of disaster risk reduction, the argument is advanced that an understanding of disasters as social phenomena within which existing patterns of discrimination contribute to differential impacts, provides a sharper lens with which to consider eligibility for refugee status.

The article argues that recent case-law from the New Zealand Immigration and Protection Tribunal reflects an awareness of the social paradigm, and the methodology for determining such claims is described and largely endorsed. It concludes by identifying sources of country of origin information that can help to address some of the evidentiary challenges claimants may face, and argues that the risk assessment under refugee law is more generous than the “immediacy” requirement identified by the New Zealand Immigration and Protection Tribunal in relation to complementary protection claims.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Law


  • public international law, human rights, refugee convention, disasters, climate change, discrimination
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-57
JournalRefugee Survey Quarterly
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Dec
Publication categoryResearch

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