Protecting Climate Refugees: An Analysis of Pakistan as a Result of the 2022 Floods

Protecting Climate Refugees: An Analysis of Pakistan as a Result of the 2022 Floods

By Jasmin Hernandez Du Bois

In 2022, record heat waves caused by climate change are being set across the globe.[1] One country particularly impacted is Pakistan, a South Asian country bridging India and the Middle East. While monsoons are typical for the region, this year’s torrential downpours smashed centuries of weather records.[2] The floods, which began in mid-June, have now displaced an estimated 33 million people,[3] including destruction of 2 million homes, obliteration of 4 million acres of farmland, and complete loss of 80 to 90 percent of crops.[4] Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff has proposed taking legal action against government agencies and builders.[5] But reprimand cannot come without rectification; in addition to sanctions against agency officials, legal protections must be instituted for Pakistanis who have now become climate refugees.

Before exploring possible protections for climate refugees, it’s important to understand how they came into existence. Like other countries, Pakistani’s government includes agencies that oversee everyday affairs.[6] Because of Pakistan’s susceptibility to floods and rain, particular emphasis is placed on agencies with oversight and enforcement of building construction codes. Indeed, the Sindh High Court recently ordered investigations—First Information Reports (“FIR”)—against the Sindh Building Construction Authority (“SBCA”) and builders for illegally constructing buildings and homes that were not up to code.[7] FIRs are filed with the police when a cognizable offense has been committed, allowing the police to make arrests and begin criminal proceedings without a warrant.[8] A failing of this system is that it calls for reprimand without rectification; when a FIR is filed, no protections are instituted for victims of the crime.[9]

A similar failing is found in the lack of legal protections for climate refugees. Amnesty International describes a refugee as a person who had “risks to their lives and safety so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave their country.”[10] This is distinguishable from the definition offered by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (“UNHCR”), which only defines refugees as people who flee due to “violence, war, conflict or persecution.”[11] Under the UNHCR definition, climate crisis victims are considered migrants, not refugees. But why does this distinction matter?

On the surface, these distinctions between “refugee” and “migrant” seem purely intellectual. Refugees and migrants are both people “on the move.” They both cross international borders. And often, their circumstances leave them no choice but to leave. But the legal differences between migrants and refugees are exponential. Refugees are offered protection because of their international status, including protection from deportation. In some countries, refugees can apply for and receive financial aid to support their relocation.[13]

In contrast, migrants are not considered refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and thus are excluded from the protections it provides.[14] Perhaps this is due to prevailing legal discourse on migration, which ties migration to labor. In 1990, the United Nations (“UN”) held the International Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly.[15]

Climate refugees are fleeing because they don’t have a choice. Gone are the days when natural disasters only caused damage. Now, because of climate change, natural disasters utterly destroy. They demolish infrastructure, eradicate communities, and exterminate any semblance of civilization. In such devastating circumstances, climate refugees deserve recognition and legal protection.

As it currently stands, climate refugees do not have international recognizance.[16] In order to adequately ensure their survival, the UN and other international bodies of governance must recognize climate refugees as a legitimate body of displaced people and include them with other refugee legal protections.


[1] Alan Wang, Record-Breaking Heatwaves Around the World in 2022, CareOurEarth (July 30, 2022),

[2] Rina Saeed Khan, Climate Scientists Explain Pakistan’s ‘unprecedented’ Floods, China Dialogue (Sept. 8, 2022),’s%20floods%2C%20meanwhile%2C%20have,June%20and%20continued%20through%20August.

[3] Tamanna Salikuddin & Jumaina Siddiqui, Commentary, Pakistan’s Deadly Floods Come Amid Deluge of Crises, U.S. Inst. of Peace (Sept. 1, 2022),

[4] Jacob Kurtzer, Pakistan’s Deadly Floods Pose Urgent Questions on Preparedness and Response, Ctr. for Strategic & Int’l Stud. (Sept. 14, 2022),,4%20million%20acres%20of%20farmland.

[5] Ishaq Tanoli, FIR against builders, SBCA officials ordered in illegal construction case, Dawn (Feb. 9, 2022),

[6] See generally Governmental Structure of Pakistan, Nat’l Democratic Found., (last visited Oct. 21, 2022).

[7] Id.

[8] First Information Report (FIR) (A Guide for Citizens), Ctr. for Peace Dev. Initiatives Pak., (last visited Sept. 21, 2022).

[9] Id.

[10] Refugees, Asylum-Seekers and Migrants, Amnesty Int’l, (last visited Sept. 21, 2022).

[11] What is a Refugee? United Nations High Comm’r for Refugees, (last visited Sept. 21, 2022).

[12] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 187 U.N.T.S. 137.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] See G.A. Res. 45/158, International Convention on the Protection of the Right of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Dec. 18, 1990).

[16] United Nations High Comm’r for Refugees, supra note 11.