The World’s First Climate Refugee to try his luck
A Kiribati islander, seeking refuge in New Zealand from rising sea levels, will have to wait to find out if he has another chance at getting refugee status.
Ioane Teitiota, who has been living in New Zealand illegally since his work visa expired at the end of 2010, is seeking leave to appeal an immigration tribunal decision denying him refugee status.
Mr Teitiota and his wife moved from South Tarawa six years ago to New Zealand, where their three children were born.
He did not want to return home because of the combined pressures of over-population and sea-level rise.
In the High Court at Auckland today, Mr Teitiota's lawyer Michael Kidd said the tribunal failed to take into account the position of Mr Teitiota's three children in making its decision.
Mr Kidd said Mr Teitiota's children would suffer serious harm if they had to return to Kiribati, where salt water is affecting crop growing areas and climate change is resulting in overcrowding and land shortages.
"If he was to go back with his wife and children, where would he go?" Mr Kidd said.
However, lawyer for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Rebecca Savage, told the court there had been no error of law or approach in the tribunal's decision.
"The tribunal correctly applied the law as it currently stands," she said.
The tribunal said in its June decision that it found the man credible.
"The tribunal finds that the limited capacity of South Tarawa to carry its population is being significantly compromised by the effects of population growth, urbanisation, and limited infrastructure development, particularly in relation to sanitation," the tribunal said.
"The negative impacts of these factors on the carrying capacity of the land on Tarawa atoll are being exacerbated by the effects of both sudden onset environmental events (storms) and slow-onset processes (sea-level-rise)."
But the tribunal found there was no evidence that conditions on Kiribati were so bad that the man and his family would face imminent danger should they return.
Justice John Priestley reserved his decision, which he expects to make within the next two weeks.