New Zealand rejects climate refugee appeal bid

2013-11-26 09:17

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Wellington - A Kiribati man seeking to become the world's first climate change refugee was knocked back by a New Zealand court on Tuesday.

Ioane Teitiota, from low-lying Kiribati, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, was seeking leave to appeal after Immigration New Zealand and the Immigration Protection Tribunal earlier rejected his application for refugee status.

In a judgement released on Tuesday, High Court Judge John Priestley refused his request to appeal.

Teitiota's lawyer Michael Kidd told the Auckland High Court in October that Teitiota and his wife were concerned for their health and that of their three New Zealand-born children if they returned to Kiribati as the land was being eaten away by the rise in sea levels and the water was contaminated by salt and sewerage.

Priestley said in his judgement that if Teitiota's bid for refugee status succeeded it would mean millions of people who were facing the consequences of climate change or natural disasters would be entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention.

"It is not for the High Court of New Zealand to alter the scope of the Refugee Convention in that regard."

Justice Priestley said that it was not necessary to reject Teitiota's application on the grounds that it was "the thin edge of the wedge".

He said the Refugee Convention defined a refugee as someone who had a fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

"[A] person seeking to better his or her life by escaping the perceived results of climate change is not a person to whom ... the Refugee Convention applies.

"The economic environment of Kiribati might certainly not be as attractive to the applicant and his fellow nationals as the economic environment and prospects of Australia and New Zealand. But he would not, if he returns, be subjected to individual persecution."

Read more on:    new zealand  |  climate change
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