Moving beyond the focus on environmental migration towards recognizing the normality of translocal lives: Insights from Bangladesh

Release date: 2016-12

In the popular debate about climate change and adaptation in Bangladesh, migration is most often framed in a negative light: People are fleeing due to environmental changes and are displaced in the wake of disasters. Mobility is largely seen as a reaction and migrants as more or less passive victims of climate change. While numerous studies seem to prove this observation, others highlight migrants’ agency and see them as drivers of social transformations. Mobility opens up livelihood opportunities in multiple places. By living translocal lives, households with migrants might be more resilient to natural hazards, subtle environmental changes and economic turbulences. Seen in this light, migration is more than a risk management strategy. It is a question of livelihood choices, human rights and freedoms.

This chapter provides a summary of the debate about climate change and migration in Bangladesh and makes use of two empirical case studies – on cyclone-induced population displacement from the Southwestern coast and on migration from the North in the context of rainfall variability and food insecurity – in order to broaden the scope of the recent debate. From a social vulnerability perspective, it argues that we need to move beyond framing migration as a failure of adaptation to environmental risks. Instead, we need to recognize the normality of people’s mobility, the persistence of regional migration systems, and the significance of the practices and structures that enable Bangladeshis to live secure translocal lives. Such a change in perspective has significant repercussions for the politics of climate change adaption and the management of migration.

In A. Milan et al. (Eds.). Migration, Risk Management and Climate Change: Evidence and Policy Responses (pp. 105-128). Basel, Switzerland: Springer.