Climate refugees or labour migrants? Climate reductive translations of women’s migration from coastal Bangladesh

Camelia Dewan

Journal of Peasant Studies (2023) 


This article examines the multifaceted socio-economic and environmental causes of migration from coastal regions in Bangladesh 

The analysis is based on qualitative research undertaken by the author in multiple sites in southwest coastal Bangladesh between August 2014 and July 2015. The research included in-depth interviews with development professionals in Dhaka and Khulna cities, observation of village life in the two unions of Nodi, and a qualitative survey of around 400 households in Nodi. 

The author argues that three problematic “misreadings” of the socioecological landscape in Bangladesh arise from ‘climate reductive translations’ of migration, that is the tendency to reduce complex social and economic drivers of migration into a single environmental cause. These misreadings are: 

  • Attributing migration to climate change misreads coastal vulnerabilities and the importance of migration as an agrarian livelihood strategy to deal with rural precarity and debt, including for divorced women and widows. 
  • Misreading migration caused by saline tiger-prawn cultivation, infrastructure-related waterlogging and riverbank erosion as climate displacement or migration. 
  • Framing climate change as causing ‘gendered displacement’ ignores the importance of affective kinship relations in shaping single women’s migration choices. 

The author concludes that migration from coastal Bangladesh is a complex phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a single cause, such as climate change. The author argues that common misunderstandings of migration from coastal Bangladesh hinder debate on effective policies and interventions for rural underemployment, floods, land loss, and salinization by aquacultures.