Emi Mahmoud: See us as more than just numbers

Voices from COP27

More than 70 per cent of the world’s refugees and displaced people come from the most climate-vulnerable countries including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Yemen. They have an enormous stake in discussions about the climate crisis, but they are too often excluded, says the UN Refugee Agency.

Sudanese-American slam poet and Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency Emtithal (Emi) Mahmoud, who is at COP27 “representing under-represented voices,” talks about the importance of including vulnerable people at the forefront of the climate crisis in the negotiations and decisions being made at the conference.

Question: What message have you brought to COP27?

Emi Mahmoud: I’m so glad to be here and to have the honor of representing underrepresented voices, especially the voices of refugees, stateless people and displaced people, and especially here with UNHCR. For me representation begins not at the outcome, it doesn’t begin at the end of the sort of thing – but it begins at the outset of planning. It begins at the start of these conversations.

If we’re not included in the dialogue, if we’re not included in the decision making, we will not be included in the outcome. And we’ll end up with solutions that are not fit for purpose, and not representative of the communities that they serve. And that’s really crucial for those of us on the frontlines. Because if you’re on the frontline of climate change, we’re out of time.

Question: Why is the issue of loss and damage so critical in negotiations?

Emi Mahmoud: One of the most important things to understand about loss of damage is that it’s not something that you only think of after the fact, it’s not something that’s only supposed to be there for the cleanup or after disaster has struck.

There’s also adaptation, this preparation – there’s the idea that we can strengthen ourselves and our communities against the inevitable. And I think that’s really, really incredibly important.

How can we also make sure that refugees are also included in planning for loss and damage and for adaptation. To me, it’s really insane to think that someone who lost their home because of flooding, because of droughts, because of famine is not protected under international legislation. For me, that’s one of the most important things to change right now.

Question: What is your message to world leaders?

Emi Mahmoud: My message to world leaders is to see us as more than just numbers, and to see us as the people who are here in front of you, pleading with you to not only recognize us, in dialogue, conversation, engagement and in collaboration, but to recognize the work that we’re doing on the ground with incredibly limited resources.

People are at the forefront [of climate change] can be at the forefront of change. So I want you to recognize and remember us and remember your own positionality that you too can be on the forefront of change.

Question: What is your message to African youth?

Emi Mahmoud: My message to African youth is lift your voices high and know that you are doing the necessary work. And that the job of world leaders and all of us here trying to advocate is to amplify your efforts.

Your efforts are the true frontline of change. For that to be amplified, a lot of people have to also do their responsibilities. Standing up and living up to your responsibilities of lifting your voices high and making sure that our communities doesn’t go unnoticed. And now it’s the responsibility of those in power to listen and all of our responsibility to act now.


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