The Republic of the Maldives is one of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) affected by climate change. Although there is still much uncertainty around the predictions of regional sea level rise, the future of islanders is a matter of importance. Migration is often presented as a solution to climate change, as a potential adaptive strategy and presented under a bright light of opportunities and advantages. It might be true that migration would bring new opportunities or facilities, but my research has shown that we must be careful about how we portray migration, and that if we are concerned about justice, and just climate futures, we need to be more nuanced and paint a full picture of what human mobility entails.
I have spent the last two months in two islands in the Maldives, Thulusdhoo and Rinbudhoo. I spent my time talking to mainly women, what it was like to grow up in the islands, their everyday lives, their migration histories, their hopes for the future and their feelings around climate change and the prospect of leaving their homelands. They told me about how as children, they would spend all their free time outside, playing on the roads, collecting shells at the beach and climbing coconut trees. I learnt that they have busy everyday lives, but that these are at the same time filled with peacefulness and freedom. I saw the deep connection that they have to their islands, and heard about how beautifully, those that have moved, talk about their original islands. I imagined their futures with them, where there are more education and health facilities in the islands, allowing them to stay and see their children grow without having to go to Male. I empathised with their feelings of being forced to migrate and witnessed the conversation become one about loss. A conversation about the loss of their way of life, their homes, their white sandy beaches, their memories, their dreams, their hopes, their identity, their culture, their language and their country.
If the inhabitability of the islands becomes threatened by climate change, migration might be the only option left but it does not seem to me that we can call it a solution. When we talk about migration today, we must empathise with those whose futures we are talking about, bring their realities and their feelings into account and understand what it is that would be lost if they have to leave their homelands behind. When we talk about justice, we must also take responsibility, acknowledge their pain and sadness and give it the recognition that it deserves.
Africa Bauza Garcia Arcicollar, PhD Scholar.