WLU partnership on immigration research

Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

A joint project between Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Ottawa is the first in the country to examine the relationship between climate change and migration to Canada.

The Environmental Migration Project brings together researchers to investigate how droughts, pollution and other environmental issues are affecting migration dynamics in less developed countries and how these factors can contribute to one’s decision to move to Canada.

Robert McLeman, an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, has been leading the project for a number of years.

According to McLeman, the project focuses on how major environmental issues, such as the recent earthquake in Italy, influences migration to Canada.

“It’s expected that hurricanes and droughts and things like that may become more frequent in the future,” said McLeman.

“So the question is if they’re already starting to cause people to come to Canada, then should we expect more of them in the future as well.”

McLeman has been studying the relationship between climate change and migration since the 1990’s.

He has published a book, among other works, on the topic during his career and has conducted many research projects relating to the subject.

Recently, the project has worked with the Bangladeshi Canadian community in Toronto. The research team found that Bangladeshi-Canadians who migrate to Canada may do so because of extreme levels of pollution in the capital city of Dhaka.

While it may not be the core reason for some migrants, most families may move to Canada if a family member has asthma or other types of illnesses, even if they benefit economically in their home countries.

The Project has also conducted research with Haitian, Filipino and Sub-Saharan African communities in Ottawa and Montreal.

“We met families who, in Dhaka, were very well off and very wealthy. These are people who are working as engineers or professors or doctors or lawyers and the pollution levels have become so extreme that they’re willing to move to Canada,” said McLeman.

Those in the Bangladeshi-Canadian community blamed the air quality in Bangladesh for their migration to Canada.

As of 2014, Bangladesh ranks 169 out of 178 countries at the Environmental Performance Index for air quality.

“The air is sometimes worse than the maximum acceptable standard in terms of air quality set by the World Health Organization, so in other words, it is many times beyond what is considered safe to breathe,” said McLeman.

Food security was also a huge factor when migrating to Canada. Since Bangladesh imports most of their food, importers will inject formaldehyde into their fish and fresh produce to keep it from spoiling.

In Canada, formaldehyde can be used as a disinfectant to kill bugs and is even used when preserving dead bodies before they are buried or cremated.

“It’s extremely toxic and carcinogenic. It causes cancer and yet people are using this to preserve food that goes for sale in public markets in Dhaka, so there’s very little trust in the safety of food there.”

The evidence from their research will help generate recommendations for Canadian and international immigration policies and settlement programming.

Results from the Bangladesh case will be submitted to the Project through a scientific journal. The lead author is Mohamed Moniruzzaman, a PhD student at Laurier.

“Economy is not a factor for [the migrants], in fact environmental issues motivated them to come here,” said Moniruzzaman.

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