Air pollution is so bad in some countries that it's now affecting court cases. A court in France decided to prevent the deportation of a Bangladeshi man with asthma, as his health condition would significantly deteriorate if sent back to the polluted air of his native country.
While the ruling is thought to be a first for France, environmental concerns are set to become a common theme in global migration as the climate and pollution crises continue to deepen. Forecasts vary from 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, moving either within their countries or across borders, on a permanent or temporary basis.
The 40-year-old man from Bangladesh currently lives in the French city of Toulouse and was refused the renewal of his residence permit in June 2019, risking deportation to his country of birth. Nevertheless, the Bordeaux Administrative Court's Court of Appeal granted him foreigner status in December, considering his health condition.
In the appeal, the man’s lawyer explained that he suffers a severe form of asthma, which requires extensive medication and treatment. His health condition has also led to severe sleep apnea, requiring him to sleep with specialized ventilation equipment each night. The equipment isn’t available in Bangladesh, the lawyer wrote.
"This is the first time in France that a court has taken into account environmental criterion to justify a person benefitting from the status of a sick foreigner," Ludovic Rivière, the lawyer, told InfoMigrants. "Because it is obvious that the environmental conditions in Bangladesh today make it possible to affirm that it would be illusory for my client to be treated there, it would amount to sending him to certain death."
Bangladesh has been repeatedly listed as one of the world’s most polluted countries regards to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), a term used to describe small particles and droplets in the atmosphere, such as dust, and particulates from vehicle exhausts or industrial activity. Exposure to it can have severe health consequences such as lung cancer and heart diseases.
The country ranked 179th out of 180 in the world for air quality in 2020, according to the Environmental Performance Index. The concentration of fine particles in the air is six times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended maximum. Air pollution was a high-risk factor in the 572,600 deaths in the country caused by noncommunicable diseases in 2018, according to WHO figures.
Nearly a quarter of the global population lives in four South Asian countries among the world’s most polluted: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, according to the Air Quality Life Index report. People living in these countries could see their lives cut short by five years on average, after being exposed to pollution levels that are now 44% higher than they were two decades ago.
Gary Fuller, an air pollution scientist at Imperial College London, told The Guardian that this was the first case he was aware of in which the environment was mentioned by a count in an extradition hearing. The case is part of a growing agenda about everyone’s right to a healthy environment, he added.
As the state of the planet’s environments continues to degrade, similar cases can be expected to be seen in court. A UK coroner also made legal history last month by ruling that air pollution was one of the causes of death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, a nine-year-old girl from London who died in 2013 with severe asthma and acute respiratory failure.