A man from Kiribati, a remote island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, is seeking asylum in New Zealand claiming that rising ocean levels have endangered his low-lying homeland, and has appealed to a court to recognize him and his family as "climate change refugees."
Ioane Teitiota told a New Zealand court that there is no place for him and his family to relocate to in his homeland, as rising sea levels have begun to swamp parts of the island, threatening their existence. Teitiota approached the High Court in Auckland after an immigrant tribunal refused asylum, and the court said it has reserved the decision on the appeal.
"There's no future for us when we go back to Kiribati," Teitiota had told the tribunal, BBC reported. “Especially for my children. There’s nothing for us there.”
Teitiota, 37, and his wife, moved to New Zealand from one of Kiribati's low-lying atolls, in search of a job and a better place to live, six years ago. His three children were born in New Zealand.
Teitiota told the court that his country is being destroyed by rising sea water, and its land and water resources have become contaminated by salt water and sewage, due to frequent flooding. He added that his village is overcrowded and that there is no higher ground for people to escape from the flooding, and claimed that going back to the village would endanger their lives.
The immigration tribunal, which twice rejected Teitiota's request, said that New Zealand’s immigration laws do not recognize climate change refugees and that his request did not meet the country's asylum-seeking criteria.
Teitiota‘s attorney Michael Kidd said that New Zealand’s immigration laws are outdated and that they should be changed to address issues like climate change.
"The refugee convention which came into effect at the end of the Second World War needs to be changed, to incorporate people who are fleeing climate catastrophe, and what's happening to Kiribati in the next 30 years is a catastrophe," Kidd said, according to Reuters, which cited Radio New Zealand.
Kiribati, officially known as the Republic of Kiribati, is a string of 33 coral atolls on the Equator in the central part of the vast Pacific Ocean. The island is spread over 300 square miles, and has a population of about 100,000 people. The nation's capital, Tarawa, which is only half-kilometer wide, lies half way between Hawaii and Australia.
The maximum height of Kiribati above sea level is just 3 meters and the island nation is in danger of losing its low-lying lands as rising sea levels in recent decades have swamped some of the atolls. And, the island nation has been identified by scientists as one of the world's nations susceptible to the impact of climate change and the resultant rise in sea levels.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the "low level of some of the islands make them sensitive to changes in sea level."