Analysing the Legal Rights of the Climate Refugees during COVID-19 Pandemic in India: Challenges to International Law

Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Analysing the Legal Rights of the
Climate Refugees during COVID-19
Pandemic in India: Challenges to
International Law
Mrinalini Banerjee1 and S. Shanthakumar1
The COVID-19 pandemic came as a shock for the entire world, and it is still ongoing, consequentially
hindering mankind from following their normal lives. The novel coronavirus was first reported from
the Wuhan city, Hubei province of China, and WHO was aware of the same on 31 December 2019.
The entire world came to still for months to prevent the virus from spreading. In India, there was
a massive displacement of over 200 million migrant workers due to the sudden lockdown in the
country. During this turmoil, the authors feel that the rights of the climate refugees were overlooked.
This article will examine the health rights of the climate refugees during this pandemic with a specific
focus on the climate refugees staying in the Sundarban Delta during this pandemic. The authors have
undertaken a theoretical and qualitative data analysis to analyse the same. The study’s findings showcase
the vulnerability due to the negligible health facilities available for them. In this regard, the article would
identify the lacuna in the legal framework for protecting the rights of the climate refugees and will argue
for integrating and interpreting International Law and Human Rights Law to at least cover the health
rights of the climate refugees during pandemics. The authors suggest that the rights of climate change
refugees should not be ignored.
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.2
The COVID-19 pandemic has been quite challenging for the entire world. It has created a health crisis
and adversely affected the social and economic conditions of all the states across the globe.3 Mankind,
since its existence, has witnessed several dreadful threats, and the coronavirus is one of the worst
enemies the world has ever faced.4 Looking into the devastating effect of such a pandemic on the
human race, the authors feel that it is of utmost importance that the entire international community
2 The Refugee Convention, 1951: The Travaux Préparatoires Analysed with a Commentary by Dr. Paul Weis, UNHCR, n.d., https://
html (last accessed 9 February 2022).
3 Dorothée Allain-Dupré & Maria Varinia Michalun, The Territorial Impact of COVID-19: Managing the Crisis Across Levels of
Government (OECD, 2020).
the-crisis-across-levels-of-government-d3e314e1/ (last accessed 18 January, 2022)
4 D. M. Shaw, Invisible Enemies: Coronavirus and Other Hidden Threats, 17 J. Bioeth. inq. 531–534 (2020). https://doi.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
9(2) 216–233, 2022
© 2022 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23220058221098027
Corresponding author:
Mrinalini Banerjee, Research Scholar, Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat 382028, India.
1 Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.
Banerjee and Shanthakumar 217
stand together to come out with a feasible solution for the future. It is seen that during this pandemic
several developed States, for example, Italy, the USA and the UK, had miserably failed to protect their
citizens from the coronavirus.5
In comparison, some states, for example, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea successfully executed their
plan to protect their people from the coronavirus.6 In the above scenarios, the world was blind to a small
group of vulnerable, climate refugees.7 Therefore, the authors believe that it is high time to propose a
feasible global legal action plan to handle any pandemic that may openly challenge the world so that the
rights of the climate refugees are not disregarded.
During this pandemic, when citizens’ right to health could not be well-protected from the effects of
mutation,8 it is hard to imagine the living standards in which the cross-border climate change migrants
are surviving.9 As per the data collected, the authors witnessed that these vulnerable people were unaware
that COVID-19 was the reason for them to fall ill.10
Moreover, during such times, the States have no obligation to protect the rights of the climate refugees
as they need to concentrate on the rights of their citizens, which has ultimately led to the States ignoring
the complex situation that the climate refugees are going through during this pandemic.11 The authors
feel that the climate refugees are victims of this situation as they are not legally recognized internationally
or nationally.12
Additionally, as discussed above, the States prioritize their citizens during such times as there is an
immense shortage of healthcare facilities.13 During the first and second waves of the pandemic in India,
the healthcare department ran short of staff and medical equipment and was unaware of the proper
treatment for this illness.14
On the contrary, the world has faced various epidemics and pandemics over the years. Still, there is
no proper legal framework dealing directly with the rights of climate refugees during such a pandemic.
As the authors construe, once a pandemic pass, the problems faced have been conveniently forgotten
by the international community without finding a solution. Hence, looking into the sorrows and
sufferings of this ongoing pandemic,15 it is the right time for the International Community, along with
all the countries, to find a solution to this problem. So that in the future, if such a situation ever arises,
5 Dyani Lewis, Why Many Countries Failed at COVID Contact-Tracing—But Some Got It Right, 588 nature 384–387 (2020).
6 Id at 386.
7 Supra note 1.
8 Lori B. andrews, Jane e. FuLLarton, neiL a. hoLtzman & arno G. motuLsky, assessinG Genetic risks: impLications For
heaLth and sociaL poLicy (National Academies Press, 1999).
9 OECD. OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (OECD, 2011).
10 Roz Plater, 50 Percent of People with COVID-19 aren’t Aware They Have Virus Healthline, 2020,
health-news/50-percent-of-people-with-covid19-not-aware-have-virus (last accessed 9 February 2022).
11 Chiara Scissa, Recognition and Protection of Environmental Migrants in International Law E-International Relations, 2021, (last accessed 9
February 2022).
12 Moushita Dutta, Legal Status for Climate Refugees: An International Law Concern, 2019,
cfm?abstract_id=3452415 (last accessed 8 February 2022).
13 Sumathi Bala, India’s COVID Crisis Exposes Deep-Rooted Problems in Public Health after Years of Neglect, CNBC, 2021, (last accessed
8 February 2022).
14 Gerry Shih & Niha Masih, India’s Capital Hunkers Down as Coronavirus Cases Surge and Hospitals Face Staffing Shortages,
the washinGton post, 2022, (last accessed 9
February 2022).
15 Kirsten Weir, Grief and COVID-19: Mourning Our Bygone Lives, American Psychological Association, 2020, https://www.apa.
org/news/apa/2020/grief-covid-19 (last accessed 9 February 2022).

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