Making Migration Work for Adaptation to Environmental Changes. A Belgian Appraisal (MIGRADAPT)

In the dichotomy between migrants and refugees/asylum-seekers, the former are typically cast as economically motivated, and set apart from refugees, fleeing war and persecution. Yet environmental changes are increasingly part of migration journeys, and count amongst the factors that call into question the distinction made between migrants and refugees. At the same time, in the international negotiations on climate change, migration is increasingly mooted as a possible adaptation strategy to the impacts of climate change. But only few studies exist as to how migration could actually work for adaptation, and none of them addresses migration in Belgium. This is the goal of this project, delineated into two parts.

  • First, MIGRADAPT will look at the role of the environment as a driver for recent migration to Belgium. While it is unlikely that one could single out environmental changes as a key driver of migration to Belgium, except in exceptional cases, the project will rather attempt to provide an assessment on how migrants perceive the environment to have influenced their migration journey as well as how they perceive current environmental disruption in their countries of origin. Indeed, many countries of origin or of transit of migrants to Belgium are affected by significant environmental disruptions. How are such disruptions perceived by the migrants? Through its innovative theoretical and empirical approach MIGRADAPT will provide scientific evidence on the role of environmental drivers in migration decisions and on how perceived and observed environmental changes exacerbate pre-existing migration flows to Belgium through its impacts on the other most commonly addressed drivers of migration, such political and economic factors. Moreover, the project will show how environmental disruptions not only affect the first stage of human mobility from their countries of origin, but also how environmental stressors intervene throughout migrants ‘fragmented journeys’, including their potential to alter migratory routes and destinations entirely.
  • Second, MIGRADAPT seeks to understand how migrants can support the adaptation and resilience of their communities of origin. How and under which conditions can migration support the adaptation and resilience of communities affected by environmental changes?
    MIGRADAPT will provide evidence on how and under which conditions migration to Belgium can support the adaptation and resilience of origin communities and also on how the perception that migrants have on environmental shocks in their origin communities can impact the amount, form, and use of the socio-economic remittances that they send. Through its transnational and multi-sited methodology that captures both the drivers and impacts of migration, MIGRADAPT will address the multifactor aspect of the dynamics of environmental migration and its implications for both migrants and those remaining in communities of origin.

The evidence from the project, both in Belgium and in three different countries of origin of the selected migrants, will be translated into policy recommendations that should allow policy makers to tailor and mainstream the environmental component of migration into migration policies, including bilateral migration agreements. The project will also seek to inform Belgian climate and development policies, so that they can better incorporate migration into the strategies. Overall, the project will seek the maximise the potential of migration for adaptation to environmental changes, building on its appraisal of the migration-environment nexus in Belgium.

This project is funded by BELSPO (Belgian Science Policy Office)/BRAIN-be (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks) and will run from 2017 to 2021.


Newsletter #1 (focused on field work in Senegal): English version / Version française
Newsletter # 2 (focused on field work in Morocco): Out in August 2018