Town’s Destruction Creates First “Climate Refugees” in U.S.

Dec 2nd, 2016 • Category: Featured

By KAZ NEWMAN, age 12

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in the southern Louisiana town of Isle de Jean Charles is being forced to move to a safer area. Ninety-eight percent of homes there have been destroyed by the effects of climate change. Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr
The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in the southern Louisiana town of Isle de Jean Charles is being forced to move to a safer area. Ninety-eight percent of homes there have been destroyed by the effects of climate change. Photo by Karen Apricot/Flickr

Since 1955, rising sea levels and strong storms have destroyed and 98 percent of the homes, crops and natural resources of Isle de Jean Charles, a southern Louisiana town. Only about 60 people remain, many of whom are part of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe. Activists have coined those who left America’s first “climate refugees,” but they are not officially recognized that way.

“We don’t call them climate refugees for the reason that they are not covered by the 1951 [Refugee] Convention,” explained Marine Franck, a climate change officer at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to Al Jazeera. The protections of that convention are only for people oppressed because of their race, religion or nationality, or because of political opinion.

Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development granted $48 million to move the Isle de Jean Charles community to a safer area. “We have never done anything at this scale,” Marion McFadden, who runs the initiative, told Bloomberg News. “We see this as setting a precedent for the rest of the country, the rest of the world.”

Climate change has forced residents in Kiribati, Bangladesh, Tuvalu and Alaska to relocate as well. “Climate change is no longer some far-off problem,” said President Obama recently. “It is happening here. It is happening now.”

In response to the funding for their move, the Biloxi-Chitimacha- Choctaw Tribe’s Chief Albert Paul Naquin told The Guardian, “We consider ourselves lucky because we want to put our community together again.”

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