Repository logo

Displacement and adjustment : Ethiopian environmental migrants in Durban, South Africa.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Notwithstanding earlier scholarly and scientific disagreements, in the 21st century the evidence for climate-induced environmental change is compelling, with little room for doubt, debate or dissent. There are serious negative consequences for water resources, agriculture and food security, human health, terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity and coastal zones. In addition to the devastating environmental consequences, there is also reasonable consensus about the devastating human impacts, especially in terms of population displacement or environmental refugees. The aim of this study is to investigate the displacement and resettlement of Ethiopian environmental migrants in Durban. More specifically, it examines how environmental changes influenced the decision to move and explores the challenges migrants faced while they were crossing borders of different countries. The study also assesses the socio-economic challenges and the survival strategies adopted by environmental refugees in Durban. This study also evaluates the role of refugee agencies in the resettlement and adjustment of migrants. Ethiopia, as a developing country, more than 80 percent of its economy is based on agriculture. However, the country’s vulnerability to environmental events such as drought, land degradation, deforestations, unsustainable agricultural and food security is very high. As a result, almost all surveyed respondents in this study reported that environmentally-induced migration was common in their areas in Ethiopia. Most of the respondents were from rural and semi-urban areas and they were engaged in farming related activities. Legal outmigration of environmental migrants from Ethiopia was very limited. The majority of respondents were forced to leave Ethiopia in a desperate bid to seek alternate survival strategies. Hence, their entire journey from Ethiopia to South Africa was risky and perilous. They were also emotionally intimidated, physically abused and exploited by migrant smugglers. In addition to the participation of non-governmental refugee organisations who provide legal aid and socio-economic assistance to vulnerable foreign migrants, the South African justice system, in theory, promotes the equality of foreign migrants before the law. However, due to the delays and mishandling of the case dockets and appeals, the majority of environmental migrants expressed their discontent and dissatisfaction with government and non-governmental agencies. Police harassment and abuse of foreign migrants was high. The findings also revealed that some Department of Home Affair officials were corrupt and unfriendly. A major concern is the international response, or perhaps, more appropriately, the lack thereof, to the challenges facing environmental refugees. A key contention of this thesis is that 60 years since its initial promulgation, the 1951 Convention should be revised to include environmental refugees.


M.A. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2014.


Environmental refugees -- South Africa -- Durban., Displacement (Psychology) -- South Africa -- Durban., Ethiopians -- Relocation -- South Africa -- Durban., Immigrants -- South Africa -- Durban., Theses -- Geography.