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Hillary Clinton said climate change is a contributing factor to refugee crises

Civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS have led to a mass exodus from the Arab nation

Des Moines, Iowa CNN —  

Climate change is a contributing factor in the world’s most dire refugee crises, including the one in Syria, Hillary Clinton said in Iowa Tuesday.

Clinton was asked at a town hall in Coralville about what the United States can do about refugee crises in Syria and Africa. After a long answer on Syria, including calling for a international conference organized by the United Nations to address the issue, the former secretary of state and 2016 candidate turned to the causes of refugee crises.

“We have to ask ourselves: Why is this happening?” Clinton said. “Because of terrible governance, because of corruption, because of conflict, because of climate change, there are so many reasons why people are being, in their minds, forced to leave and try to get to safety.”

“I’m really glad that there’s conversations going on now to try to figure out how to end the conflict, or at least get a ceasefire in Syria, because if you can find some safe spaces in Syria, maybe people will not leave,” Clinton added. “They don’t want to leave. If you hear the interviews with refugees, they don’t want to leave. They feel compelled to leave.”

Civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS have led to a mass exodus from the Arab nation. More than 300,000 people have died during the conflict and 10.6 million people – nearly half the country’s population – have been forced to leave their homes, with some 4.1 million of those people fleeing the country entirely.

Many of those refugees have streamed across Syria’s border to Turkey and Lebanon – over 3 million have ended up in those countries alone – but some have made a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, hoping to end up in Germany, Sweden or other European countries.

At the same time, refugees from the Horn of Africa – including Eritrea and Somalia and Sudan – have tried to enter Europe through Libya, causing another refugee crisis.

On Wednesday, a Clinton aide confirmed that the candidate meant what she said on the connections between climate change and refugee crises.

“As experts have noted,” the aide said, “climate change is one of the factors that can contribute to displacement and exacerbate refugee situations.”

Clinton has been more hawkish than most Democrats on Syria, calling for a no-fly zone over the country earlier this year and cautiously supporting President Barack Obama’s decision to authorize the use of special forces in Syria. During her tenure as secretary of state, Clinton advocated for the U.S. to do more to arm rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has hinted that things in the country would be different today if that had happened.

Related: Clinton ‘sees merit’ in Obama’s decision to send troops to Syria

Clinton’s comment on climate change stems from the fact that from 2007 and 2011, large portions of Syria were hit with extreme drought and heat that forced many rural Syrians to move into big cities.

“There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers,” according to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America report. “We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.”

Clinton is not the only Democrat, either, to point to climate change as a reason for refugee crises.

“Understand, climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world, yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram,” Obama said earlier this year. “It’s now believed that drought, crop failures, and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.”