Refugees and the climate crisis

UNHCR Canada
5 min readApr 19, 2021

Learn how refugees and displaced communities have been impacted by climate change — and meet those who are working to protect the planet

By Hawa Maiga

Woman waters plants.
© UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

While everyone is at risk of the negative effects of a changing climate, its impacts are often felt more intensely by the world’s most vulnerable. This includes displaced and stateless people, whose shelters, sources of food and livelihoods have been affected due to the warming planet.

Along with our partners, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is committed to protecting the environment and relieving the environmental challenges associated with hosting a large population in a small area.

Here are five incredible stories about how climate change can pose greater risks to refugees and how — with the help of UNHCR — displaced persons are contributing to restore the environment.

Restoring Sudan’s forest cover, one tree at a time

Woman stands next to branches of wood.
© UNHCR/Vanessa Zola

Geal Deng has seen firsthand how deforestation has taken a toll on the environment she has called home since fleeing violence in South Sudan seven years ago. Today, she is part of a project that aims to plant one million trees in a massive reforestation drive in Sudan’s White Nile State. The reforestation project includes the participation of both refugees and their hosts and has proven to be positive for community relations in the area.

“I joined the project to earn a bit of money for food and some clothes and to learn new skills about tree plantation,”

“I joined the project to earn a bit of money for food and some clothes and to learn new skills about tree plantation,” says Geal Deng, who hopes to use these skills back home or in future work.

Geal Deng and thousands of women like her often spend up to eight hours travelling to remote areas to forage for increasingly scarce firewood — a journey that leaves them vulnerable to sexual violence.

“It’s promoting safe access to sustainable cooking energy while addressing environmental challenges through natural resource management,” says Imadeldin Ali, UNHCR’s livelihoods associate officer based in Kosti. He expects the reforestation drive to create a more secure environment for vulnerable refugees and local people alike.

“We’re saving the lives of animals and protecting resources that belong to everyone”


After he refused to join a gang in one of Honduras’ most dangerous cities, Josué* was chased down and shot. He survived his injuries and fled in search of security at only 16 years old. Now 19 years old, Josué is among the nine asylum-seekers and refugees hired and trained to work as rangers in Guatemala’s national park system. “I always dreamed of such a job,” says Josué. As rangers, they are responsible for maintaining the trails used by visitors and monitoring the parks’ flora and fauna, which is under threat of deforestation, illegal logging, illicit wildlife trade and climate change.

*Name has been changed for protection reasons.

Refugees in Sudan reap benefits of clean cooking energy

Woman heats her kettle on an ethanol stove
© UNHCR/Vanessa Zola

For South Sudanese refugee Alisa, cooking with firewood created multiple problems in her daily life. She would leave her home as early as six in the morning to undertake a laborious day-long trip to a dwindling forest in Sudan’s White Nile State to collect firewood. This journey poses serious risks to women and girls who have reported being beaten up or sexually assaulted on their way to collect firewood.

UNHCR is helping refugees switch to clean-burning ethanol instead, bringing multiple benefits for families like Alisa’s. “Firewood produces a lot of smoke which affects the eyes and lungs. But this will be no more,” says Alisa. Benefits includes no longer needing to take risky trips searching for firewood, slowing deforestation, reducing accidental fires, improving cooking times and promoting healthier home environments.

Visit UNHCR Canada’s online gift shop, and for just $50 you can help provide a sense of safety and security to a refugee family by gifting them solar lanterns.

Rohingya refugees flex green thumbs with gardening project

Couple pictured next to their garden.
© UNHCR/Kamrul Hasan

Rohingya refugees Kefayetullah and Fatima and their two children live in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. They are part of a greater influx of 740,000 refugees that have settled in the area since 2017, which has had a huge impact on the environment. With the help of UNHCR, Kefayetullah and Fatima have received support and agricultural tools to create a vertical garden near their shelter.

This garden has allowed them to grow vegetables all year long and ensure nutritious meals for their family. This project has also helped their family ensure their own livelihood and rebuild their lives. “With the money we earn from selling the extra vegetables, I can buy fish and other groceries. I sometimes buy clothes for the family and for my relatives,” says Kefayetullah.

“With the money we earn from selling the extra vegetables, I can buy fish and other groceries. I sometimes buy clothes for the family and for my relatives.”

UNHCR’s water pumps bring much-needed relief to refugees in the Sahel

The Goudoubo refugee camp in Burkina Faso is situated in the Sahel region, where temperatures are rising 1 ½ times faster than the global average. Global warming has exposed the population to the adverse effects of climate change and disasters, including floods and droughts. “With the phenomenon of climate change, over the years, the quantity of the groundwater is only going down,” explains Joyce, a hydraulics and water engineer at the Goudoubo camp. UNHCR is on the ground providing 15 litres of clean water to each refugee in the camp every day. “There are pumps near the homes, pumps near where we work, thank God there’s water,” says Malian refugee Mariama who is relieved and grateful for the water she can use for washing, drinking and cleaning.

Visit UNHCR Canada’s online gift shop, and for just $85, you can send seeds and essential gardening tools to refugees, allowing families to grow their own food and generate income.



UNHCR Canada

The UN Refugee Agency in Canada is dedicated to providing life-saving support to refugees, displaced and stateless people.