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'We Are United': COP21 Protest Connects Dots Between Conflict, Climate, Displacement

"The global community has a human rights responsibility to refugees fleeing violence and fleeing for their lives," said Cindy Wiesner of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Members of the It Takes Roots Delegation. (Photo: Our Power Campaign/Twitter)

As politicians, diplomats, and corporate representatives gathered in Paris Wednesday in the second week of United Nations-brokered COP21 climate talks, grassroots groups from the frontlines of environmental destruction set their sights on a different audience: people imprisoned at a migrant detention center nearby.

Bearing a message of solidarity, and denunciation of xenophobia and racism, Indigenous, migrant, and black communities from the Americas joined with migrant and refugee justice groups from France to rally at the facility—near the Hippodrome de Vincennes in the east of Paris—singing, drumming, and chanting within earshot of those locked up.

"We are here to show that when the Northern countries do all they can to raise physical and mental border[s], we the people from all over the world—from Jackson, Mississippi to Fresnes in Ile-de-France—we stand for climate and social justice and against xenophobia, Islamophobia and negrophobia," declared Almamy Kanouté, a French grassroots activist, in a statement released Wednesday.

The demonstration stems from an international civil society push at COP21 to expose the links between racism, global inequality, war, and climate change—and highlight the critical role that the people most impacted must play in creating a better world.

What's more, Wednesday's rally comes at a time when European and U.S. governments are further restricting their borders and criminalizing people fleeing war and poverty while, at the same time, driving the militarism and climate change that many argue is fueling this displacement.

A report released by Oxfam International earlier this month found that, while the richest people and countries are disproportionately responsible for global carbon emissions, the poor—particularly in the Global South—bear the brunt of the resulting droughts, mega-storms, and rising seas.

"While the U.S., Europe and the Global North have been the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions, the Global South had been bearing the brunt of the impact," said Cindy Wiesner of the U.S.-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance on Wednesday. "Rising food scarcity, drought and floods are driving global conflicts, war, and climate migration from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East."

"The global community has a human rights responsibility to refugees fleeing violence and fleeing for their lives," Wiesner added.

Kali Akuno from the Mississippi-based group Cooperation Jackson connected the plight of those being detained to movements for racial justice in the United States.

"We know state repression, vigilante violence, and xenophobia all too well," said Akuno. "In many of our communities extrajudicial killings at the hands of the state is a daily occurrence. We reject Islamophobia and Afro or Negrophobia rising across Europe and North America, as well as the scapegoating of migrants and refugees, being spread by right wing demagogues and their liberal enablers."

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