According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an average of 22.5 million people were displaced by climate or weather-related events between 2000-2018. And the numbers keep rising--the International Organization for Migration estimates that by 2050 there will be 200 million climate displaced persons. Despite the eminent threat posed by climate change, however, “climate refugees” are not a protected class. The refugee resettlement and environmental community must come together to address the challenges that exist in assisting climate-displaced people and propose next steps for advancing legal frameworks, public campaigns, and policy decisions. As one of the oldest and largest resettlement agencies in the U.S., Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) will bring together a panel of experts to explore the unique intersection of climate change and forced migration.
LIRS is a faith-based organization with over 80 years of experience providing the long welcome to refugees fleeing inescapable violence from conflict and persecution in their home countries. LIRS was founded in 1939 by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people during World War II, however, the roots of assisting immigrants date back to the 1860s. The Lutheran legacy of courageous and compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of half a million people who have sought safety and hope in America’s communities and has made LIRS one of the leading resettlement partners of the federal government for the last 40 years.
Faye Matthews J.D., is the Legal Policy Advisor for the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program and Gulf Restoration Program. As Legal Policy Advisor, Faye provides day-to-day advice and solutions to challenges faced by various ecosystems of the diverse and rich Gulf region and by communities that have been impacted by some of the Nation’s worst natural disasters. Faye works with stakeholders, including policy makers, community leaders and commercial fishermen, to develop innovative climate policy to support resilience in our rapidly changing environment. Previously, Faye worked on Capitol Hill as Legislative Counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for Senator Maria Cantwell from Washington State and former Senator Mary Landrieu from Louisiana where she handled the Bureau of Land Management and oil and gas portfolios and supported on natural resources policy, including water, forestry and national park issues as well as energy efficiency initiatives for sustainability and resiliency. Faye worked Of Counsel at Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside Law Firm in Gretna, LA specializing in environmental law. Faye is a New Orleans native and holds a Juris Doctorate from Southern University Law Center and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of New Orleans.
Walter Kaelin is professor emeritus for international and (Swiss) constitutional law, University of Bern/Switzerland. He is the Envoy of the Chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement and the former Envoy of the Chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative on disaster-induced cross-border displacement. He presently supports the UN High Level Panel on Internal Displacement as a member of its Expert Advisory Group. Previously, he served as Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons as well as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services will serve as the moderator. She previously served in the Obama White House and at the State Department as Senior Advisor under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry. At the White House, Krish served as Policy Director for Michelle Obama and led the First Lady’s signature Let Girls Learn initiative. At the State Department, she coordinated development and implementation of multiple programs including those concerning refugees and migration, engagement with religious communities, the legal dimensions of U.S. foreign policy, and regional issues relating to Africa and the Middle East. She worked closely with PRM, Consular Affairs, Health & Human Services and the Department of Defense.
This event is part of the Climate Impacts and Adaptation program.