Module 2: Why Forced Migration? Conflict, Economics and Climate Change

Fall 2017 - Spring 2018:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 to Thursday, May 31, 2018

SEE the faces and stories of today's 65 million migrants.  In Chapter 1, “Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Refugees,” and Chapter 2, “Climate Change Refugees,” students will encounter the full range of refugees – those forced to move because of conflict and those who must relocate for reasons of economics or climate change.  An exploration of the push/pull factors behind their decision to move, the rights they have, and the barriers that they face will paint a portrait showcasing the difficulties and complexities that individuals, families, and their communities face.  As an advocate, Catholic Relief Services uses a framework, called integral human development, and invests in individual’s inherent capacity to be resilient. 

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Course materials

Learning Objectives

Personalize the refugee experience by evaluating, understanding and humanizing the scale and complexity of today’s humanitarian crisis.  

Understand the complexity and dimensions of migration.

Explore the advocacy undertaken by Catholic Relief Services using the framework of integral human development, asset-based community development and investment in self-reliance.


Module resources are being added and subject to further changes.

Primary Resources

The State of Refugee Migration: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


What is the legal definition of a refugee? See Article 1 of the UNHCR’s Convention on the Status of Refugees written in 1951.  


“The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key document that forms the basis of our work.  Ratified by 145 State parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.”  Access the Convention and related topics through this link


Forced Displacement hit a record high in 2015. See a map of the UN Refugee Agency’s findings on these trends and access the full report, Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015, or watch a 5-minute video.  Posted June 20, 2016.

The Scientific Evidence Supporting the Existence of Climate Change


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change documents the evidence for climate change. Access their 169-page report titled Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, a 32-page summary, or a 14:41 minute video by clicking this link.   


Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change UNFCCC-Paris COP-21 “answers questions about migration, displacement, and planned relocation in the context of climate change, and suggests recommendations for COP21.”  Published: November, 2015.  9 pages.  

The Dimension of Policy and Ethics: How to Meet the Challenge


The variety of "push" and "pull" factors, which drive the global migration process, are examined in evaluating the causes of migration to the United States.  Source: USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Humand Development, Office of International Justice and Peace.  Published: September 2015.  


How do refugees start over? Syrian Refugees: Starting Up and Starting Over describes a CRS project in Egypt that provides business and legal training, and grants startup capital  (Author: Nikki Gamer.  Published: May 2, 2016.)  A 4:27 minute video Miriam’s Story: Finding Hope in Education explains why refugee children need educational and counseling support.


CRS provides recommendations for a path forward in Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Refugee Crisis. Policy Paper highlights are on pages 1 and 3-4.  Published: 2016. 16 pages. 


“Resilience is best defined by vulnerable communities themselves.”  Read Understanding Community Perceptions of Resilience: Discussions with Communities from CRS Disaster Risk Reduction Projects.  Authors: Amy Hilleboe and Clara Hagens.  Published: 2014. 32 pages.


In Climate Change: From Concepts to Action, the strategies for incorporating climate change into CRS’s existing Integral Human Development (IHD) framework are discussed. Authors: Jacqueline Ashby and Douglas Pachico.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published: 2012.  70 pages. 


International Organization for Migration concludes, in Migration, Climate Change and the Environment: A Complex Nexus, “(e)nvironmental migration is a multi-causal phenomenon, yet one in which environmental drivers play a significant and increasingly determinative role.”    


In Search for Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement calls for the development of new thinking and practical approaches.  Authors: Koko Warner, Charles Ehrhart, Alex de Sherbinin, Susanna Adamo, and Tricia Chai-Onn.  Published: May 2009.  26 pages.


What is lifeboat ethics and what does it have to do with climate change?  Author Garrett Hardin explains in “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case against Helping the Poor,” originally published in the September 1974 edition of Psychology Today.   

Other Areas of the World Affected by Climate Change



Violence and the resulting search for scarce resources are pushing people in Chad off the land. Read The Push of Climate Change and watch several videos.  Author:  Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  December 30, 2016.


Ghana faces both heavy floods and droughts - caused by erratic weather patterns – and flooding due to coastal erosion.  Rising Above Climate Change in Ghana provides a view of how the effects are both varying and far-reaching.  Authors: Anna Ruiz & Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Published: July 19, 2016. 


How can relief and development programs promote resilience in regions, such as the Horn of Africa, that experience recurrent crises? The six case studies in this document describe some of CRS’s responses: drought-related climate change, environmental degradation, floods, and crop pests and diseases.  Source: The Road to Resilience: Case Studies on Building Resilience in the Horn of Africa, Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  August 13, 2013.  50 Pages.  


“Climate change is very real and it’s affecting the country.”  Access The Power of Climate Change in Zimbabwe.  Author:  Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  September 20, 2016.    



Read The Push of Climate Change and watch several videos that describe rising sea levels are pushing people in Bangladesh to migrate in search of safety and economic opportunity. Author:  Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  December 30, 2016.



In Tortillas on the Roaster Summary Report: Central American Maize-Bean Systems and the Changing Climate, CRS discusses its extensive research on the impact of higher temperatures and changes in rainfall climate change on maize production in Central America and provides recommendations for government support for diversification of agricultural products.  Authors: Anton Eitzinger, Kai Sonder, and Axel Schmidt.  Published: 2012. 26 pages.


The combination of coffee leaf rust and climate change are making the lives of coffee farmers in Guatemala more vulnerable.  Moving Up the Mountain: Coffee Farmers Fight against Climate Change discusses the reasons why and explores farmers’ responses.  Author: Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Published: April 14, 2016. 


The Giving Trees: Fighting Climate Change and Strengthening Communities in Nicaragua describes an innovative project involving smallholder farmers which aims to reduce poverty and to mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Includes 4:16 minute video.  Author: Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  October 27, 2016.



Climate change has contributed to the disappearance of Lake Poopó, Bolivia’s second largest lake.  Click here for photos, a 2:06 minute video and article “Bolivia's wasteland: Shocking aerial pictures reveal how country's second-largest lake - twice the size of Los Angeles - has been turned into a desert.” (Author: Corey Charlton.  Source: Daily Mail.  Published: January 21, 2016.)  For additional perspective, watch The Vanishing Water of BoliviaEnglish (4.47 minutes) and Spanish (4: 49 minutes) (Source: Catholic Relief Services.)


“In Peru, people are migrating by answering the call of the South American gold rush. They’ve been PULLED into climate change and have become key players in the fight to stake a claim in the Peruvian Amazon.”  Read about The Pull of Peru’s Gold Rush.  Author:  Rebekah Kates Lemke.  Source: Catholic Relief Services.  Published:  December 30, 2016.  

Climate Change Victim - Ilse de Jean Charles, Louisiana


Home to tribal communities since the era of the Trail of Tears, Ilse de Jean Charles has already lost more than 90% of its original land mass since 1955, due to rising water levels.  In 2016, the community won a $48 million grant to relocate the remaining residents to the mainland.  


In “Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees” Coral Davenport and Campbell Robertson write about these refugees and one of the world’s first ‘planned’ resettlement programs.   Source: New York Times.  Published: May 3, 2016.  


Katie Pohlman provides additional perspective in her article “Louisiana’s Vanishing Island: America’s First Climate Refugees.”  Watch an embedded MSNBC video lasting 6:22 minutes.  Source: EcoWatch: For the Love of Earth.  Published: June 28, 2016.   

Secondary Resources

Additional Readings

Chapter 1

David Hollenbach, S, J., “The Rights of Refugees,” America (January 4, 2016): 14-17.

Hollenbach, David, ed. Refugee Rights: Ethics Advocacy and Africa. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008.

Hollenbach, David, ed. Driven from Home: Protecting the Rights of forced Migrants. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2010.


Chapter 2

McKibben, Bill, Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.

Parenti, Christian, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, 201,