News Column

Islander Denied Status as Climate-Change Refugee

November 26, 2013

Daily News (South Africa)

WELLINGTON: A Pacific islander whose homeland is threatened by rising seas failed in an attempt to become the world's first climate change refugee today, with a New Zealand judge dismissing his case as "novel" but "unconvincing".

Lawyers for Ioane Teitiota, 37, argued that New Zealand should not deport him even though his visa had expired, because climate change was gradually destroying his low-lying home in Kiribati.

The difficulties Teitiota and his family would face in the tiny nation - which consists of about 30 atolls, most only a few metres above sea level - meant they should be recognised as refugees, the lawyers said.

In a written ruling handed down today, High Court judge John Priestley acknowledged that Kiribati was suffering environmental degradation attributable to climate change, including storm surges, flooding and water contamination.

But he said millions of other people in low-lying countries were in a similar situation and Teitiota did not qualify as a refugee under international law.

Priestley said the UN Refugee Convention stated that a refugee must fear persecution if they returned home, a criteria Teitiota did not meet.

The judge rejected the argument from Teitiota's legal team that he was being "persecuted passively" by the environment because climate change was a threat to him that the Kiribati government was powerless to control.

"Novel and optimistic though these submissions are, they are unconvincing and must fail," Priestley wrote.

Teitiota's lawyer was not immediately available for comment on the ruling. - Sapa-AFP

Daily News

(c) 2013 Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. All rights strictly reserved.Provided by, an company

Original headline: Climate refugee rejected

Source: (c) 2013 Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. All rights strictly reserved.Provided by, an company

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