climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

No Borders, No Nations

Posted by KM on September 7, 2008

by anonymous

This article originally appeared in the newspaper “Unless You Are Free”, which was put together by anarchists in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and was distributed at the recent Newcastle Climate Camp

With defining symbols like the high‑tech, militarised camps at Woomera, Baxter & Villawood and notorious moments such as the government‑ordered military seizure of 400 people on the Tampa, the debate and conflict over refugees has been a heated political issue in Australia over the last 10 years. Frequent protests, both inside the camps and out have been held. Slogans such as “Free the Refugees” have been widely heard in general political discourse. Although Kevin Rudd has propagated a ‘softly, softly’ approach to the refugee issue, recently reversing some Howard‑era policies, substantial elements of the key infrastructure remains. It has also been a pivotal component of radical political struggles. Andrea Maksimovic’s piece on the Woomera 2002 protest ‘With Our Bodies Against the Camps’ – where the fences of the detention centre were torn down and over 50 refugees freed – wonderfully articulates this:

The best thing of all was that we didn’t demand anything of the state – we demanded things of ourselves, of the movement, of the temporary community which existed for those five days. We (including those on the inside) demanded that a view which sees our protests stop at the fence be dispensed with, and a new practice of protest arise. And that call was answered by everyone in their own way. And whilst it would be wrong to call Woomera 2002 purely an anti‑capitalist action, undoubtedly it served to question the logic of a system which aims to divide us from our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

On a global scale similar struggles have eventuated. Around May Day 2006, millions of undocumented workers in the US mobilized around the demand for a repeal of a congressional bill that would criminalize them for being in the U.S. without proper papers, and criminalize U.S. citizens who provide them with assistance. Although only partially victorious, this has led to large demos and showings of dissent in the subsequent years.

Anthropologist Ettiene Balibar has noted cogently that “globalisation tends to knock down frontiers with respect to goods and capital while at the same time erecting a whole system of barriers against the influx of a workforce and the ‘right to flight’ that migrants exercise in the face of misery, war, and dictatorial regimes in their countries of origin…At the same time as they are supposed to enjoy ‘liberation’ with respect to traditional forms of authority and dependence,… movements are strictly controlled through a system of differential citizenship. At the bottom of this ladder we see the migrants who suffer the most discrimination: the ‘illegals’, or ‘undocumented’”.

In this context, the issues of migration surrounding climate refugees has emerged as a key new terrain of struggle, encompassing both climate change politics and those rejecting borders and acting in solidarity with refugees. The Red Cross already estimates that the numbers of environmental refugees outnumbers every other category of refugee. This is set to radically increase – it is feared that pressures due to climate change will lead to as many as 200 million forced migrants by the end of the century.

As with all refugees, the burden of environmental migration is borne predominantly by individuals and communities from the Global South‑mainly Sub‑Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and Central America. Our response to this scenario must not just be to push for reforms to improve the lot of individual migrants, but, given the scale of the impending crisis, to push for an end to borders and for freedom of movement for all.

The Pacific Region

Throughout the Pacific region, climate change has already had significant impact. The islands of Tuvalu, Fiji and Kiribati have experienced major geographical changes. In Tuvalu sandbanks and shorelines have been lost since the 1960 ’s. ‘The Guardian’ newspaper describes the Cataret Islands as a “Pacific Atlantis”, and it is frequently described as the site of the world’s first climate refugees. Seawalls and other devices no longer deter tides from flooding arable land and destroying key agricultural infrastructure. In all these areas, coastal roads, bridges and plantations are suffering increasing erosion. Intense storms and floods are impacting on housing and community infrastructure, and are occurring more and more frequently. The Red Cross claims that there has been an increase of 65 times in weather‑related disasters over the last 30 years. This will all force large‑scale migration.

Food security and water security are generally under threat, with fisheries becoming depleted as a consequence of coral bleaching. Rainwater is becoming inaccessible, particularly in Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Cook Islands as a consequence of oceanic and climatic variations. Warmer temperatures can lead easily to increased rates of disease. Research indicates that Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are now vulnerable to outbreaks of malaria. Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have experienced cholera recently.

The Australian government’s response to this situation appears to be far from benign. Angus Houston, chief of the defence force, has decreed that climate change is one of the new “security challenges” for the ADF to face. Mick Keelty, chief commissioner of the Australian Federal Police has called climate change the “greatest security threat” of the 21 st century, even surpassing terrorism. He explicitly mentions “border security”, which at least partially refers to the ‘threat’ posed by climate refugees. An ASPI (Australian Strategic Policy Institute) report on climate change, entitled ‘A Change in Climate for the Australian Defence Force’ highlights this.2 Some suggestions outlined by the report include:

– Defence being excluded from carbon‑offset responsibility, other than to make profit by selling off land.

– A general expansion in the capacity of the military, especially as with regards to short‑term surges, ‘border protection’ and logistical capability.

– A continuation of the trend towards private contractors and NGO’s in the place of a formal military presence.

It concludes that climate change is “…making the world more dangerous. The ADF will feel the effects… The biggest challenge will be changing Defence behaviour and systems without reducing ADF operational capacity”.

There is already a large Australian police and military presence in the Pacific of over 20,000. This has been a deeply unpopular presence and has culminated in large‑scale rioting in Honiara in 2006, and protests against neoliberal reforms in Vanuatu in 2002, PNG in 1995 and Tonga in 1995.

Kevin Rudd is firmly behind this, arguing that “there are better places to have combat troops than Iraq” and has described the Pacific as an “arc of instability” that needs to be a focal point for Australian militarism. Given this context, rhetoric of humanitarian assistance, as spelled out in the Labor party’s Our Drowning Neighbours
report – adopted as federal policy at the last election (a marked improvement over previous policy) – does little to assuage fears of environmental disaster.3

1 Friends of the Earth Australia, A Citizens Guide to Climate Refugees,‑justice/activities‑and‑projects/climate‑refugees
2 Australian Strategic Policy Institute, A Change in Climate for the Australian Defence Force,
3 Anthoony Albanese, Our Drowning Neighbours,
4 Rising Tide London, Environmental Refugees,
5 National Security and the Threat of Climate Change


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