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ASEAN is in a unique position to push for heightened global awareness and action for the vulnerable Pacific populations facing the possibility of relocation. Yet, it is strangely silent on the issue. ASEAN has both moral and legal obligation to not to turn its back on its Pacific neighbours. Morally, ASEAN – or at least most of it – is part of the western fringes of the Pacific region. It is proximate to many Pacific nations, and it has both the resources and landmass to help: two of the world’s largest archipelagos are ASEAN members. The obligations of humanity and justice require larger and more developed states aid and assist their more vulnerable neighbours. Legally, ASEAN may learn from the African Union (AU) experience. While AU accepted the UN Refugee Convention definition of ‘refugee,’ it expanded it to include those compelled to leave their country owing to ‘events seriously disturbing public order.’ Many scholars believe this includes the environmentally displaced.
ASEAN can choose to take on the easy path of insularity and parochialism as regards the looming issue on environmental migration, or it can take the high road by transforming itself into a dynamic regional actor pushing for clear policies on how to address it. Displacements are by nature traumatic and carry with them the impoverishments of landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalization, increased morbidity and mortality, food insecurity, loss of access to common property resources, and social disarticulation. ASEAN can do much to help its vulnerable neighbors. As a bloc, it is a strong voice that can speak to the larger international community asking it to help address the issue.
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