Pacific News Minute: Climate Migrants Claim Rejected by New Zealand

Oct 25, 2017

Tuvalu's capital Funafuti
Credit Dept. of Foreign Affairs & Trade / Flickr

Two families from Tuvalu who claimed status as climate refugees lost their case before New Zealand’s Immigration and Protection Tribunal this week. They claim that life would not be sustainable if they’re forced to return home. We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

In its decision, the tribunal conceded that returning the families to tiny Funafuti atoll would pose challenges: “Exposure to the sea along the coastline makes land erosion a serious problem,” the ruling stated, “and the country suffers from rising sea levels, storms and king tides.”

But the tribunal also pointed to the U.N. Convention on Refugees and concluded that the families do not come under the five grounds established under international law: persecution by race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. 

The decision conforms to previous rulings in New Zealand, including the expulsion of Ioane Teitiota and his family to Kiribati two years ago. But new research suggests that many more cases can be expected soon.

A study of global migration flows over the past 35 years shows that climate has already overtaken economic factors like wage differentials as the leading cause of migration. Lead author Dennis Wesselbaum of New Zealand’s Otago University said that storms, floods, heatwaves and droughts all contribute to migration, but he cited higher temperatures as the principal driver of immigration decisions. As global temperatures continue to rise, Dr. Wesselbaum concluded that climate migrants will be coming “rather sooner than later.

"That,” he added, "raises the question for New Zealand of how we, as an individual country, can prepare for the impact on our population, as well as our land.”