BY: Dina Ionesco

The link between policy and art can offer innovative and effective ways to better understand and address environmental migration.

Art can best express the soul of a culture and migration can allow cultures to stay alive. Often leaving a country means taking the culture with you and keeping it alive through dance, novels, poems or paintings. Some people embark on migration with culture as their single piece of personal luggage. When conflict destroys communities or rising seas erode the land, migrants can make their culture resonate in new places.

Paradoxically, migration is also changing cultures, when migrants and their host societies meet and mix this can enhance creativity and inspire new artistic explorations. Art can directly empower migrants and diasporas, allowing them to express their experiences.

Art can also help change the many stereotypes and overcome negative myths around migration.

Art can help environmental migration policy, because it brings us back to the human scale. Art is about human expression and migration is about peoples’ stories, lives, hopes and despair. Migration policy is about developing frameworks to address human mobility challenges and better size migration opportunities; art can remind policy to put people at the center of its approach.

© Dina Ionesco

Art can be a testimony of personal stories and individual realities and a possible response to the “how many?” question we always hear about environmental migration. “So what is the data, what are the numbers, how many people flee desertification, how many escape sea level rise?” It is very often difficult to respond and to provide exact data on a complex issue such as environmental migration, where so many factors are at play. The lack of solid evidence, however, should not hinder policy action.

Art can provide a vehicle for expressing reality in a different way, incarnated in human experiences rather than expressed in numbers.

Art is about stirring the emotions and emotions can stir policy action.

Art can help us express the complexity of the environmental migration topic. It can help us understand how for a migrant, his or her journey can both make the person feel more empowered and more vulnerable; and why one can feel at once happy and sad.

Artists can contribute to overcome the double sensitivity of climate induced migration topic, as both migration policy and climate policy remain such sensitive matters in terms of international governance.

© Dina Ionesco

My personal interest in ‘art and policy’ actually began with my experience of ‘art and politics’. As a child in Romania I could see the massive portraits of the Ceausescu couple, usually portraying them with happy children, men and women… while almost all people I knew were not featuring such joyful smiles. These paintings were witness to me of artistic skill, rule of oppression as well as moral compromise of the artists who had painted them. They made me think of the power of art serving political power.

My personal interest in migration policy comes from later escaping with my family from Romania, becoming a political refugee in France and acquiring French citizenship. Arriving as a young adolescent from dictatorial Romania to France meant experiencing loss and undergoing some sarcasm, but more importantly, it meant experiencing freedom as a living reality. Drawing cartoons is a way for me to linking it all up: freedom, artistic expression and belief in humor as a way to overcome all kind of barriers and borders.

© Dina Ionesco

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has collaborated with artists on migration, environment and climate change, exploring collaboration for instance with photographers, film makers, cartoonists and writers. An example is the partnership with the photographer Alessandro Grassani (More details here). Also of interest is the exhibition Antarctic Village – No Borders, curated by the University of the Arts London, which has been organized in collaboration with the Nansen Initiative and included the opportunity (11 October) to discuss the links between art and policy. See more at

Last but not least, I leave you with this from Giulia Cicarese, who worked as an intern with IOM in 2014 and produced paintings and poems inspired by migration policy work.

Migrazione e cambiamento climatico

Quel giorno il sole divenne rosso

si tinse di neve,

i rami si svestirono, rivestirono,


La terra secca e la fredda acqua

Si conobbero per la prima volta

E fecero l’amore

In un azzurro deserto.

Indietreggiarono gli oceani

a passo di valzer

in un pentagramma aggrovigliato,

scoprendo le rughe della terra.

Corremmo contro le stagioni,

Corremmo inseguiti dal tempo.


Migration and climate change

That day the Sun turned red,

painted himself of snow,

The branches undressed,

dressed, undressed.

Dry land and icy water

met for the first time

and made love

in a teal blue desert.

Oceans moved back

in a pace of Waltz,

like in a tangle musical staff,

uncovering the Earth’s wrinkles.

We ran against seas

We ran against time.


For more information on migration, the environment and climate change please go to the Environmental Migration Portal.