A citizen of tiny island nation Kiribati, who is now facing deportation from New Zealand, is seeking asylum as a “climate refugee,” as global warming is severely affecting his native soil. The 37-year-old and his wife emigrated to Middle Earth six years ago, and have had 3 children in the interim.
The man’s lawyer, Michael Kidd, plans to take the case to New Zealand’s High Court on October 16th, after immigration authorities have rejected two previous bids.
The Republic of Kiribati is an island nation in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, with a population of roughly 103,000, on 32 atolls over 310 square miles. It’s one of the most low-lying impoverished countries in the world, and has limited natural resources. Travel writer J. Maarten Troost’s hilariously bizarre account of his time in Kiribati, “The Sex Lives of Cannibals,” describes a chill government, a great beer crisis, extreme heat and an obsession with the Macarena. Rising sea levels have severely affected the atolls.
The unnamed Kiribati immigrant describes king tides (severely high tides) as regularly overtaking the islands’ defenses, beginning in 1998, which in turn began flooding homes, destroying crops and making people sick. He’d mentioned the health risks his two youngest children would face, if they were forced to return home.
“There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” the man told the New Zealand courts, adding, “especially for my children. There’s nothing for us there.”
An international panel of climatologists recently submitted a report revealing that it’s “extremely likely” that human activity is causing global warming, and warned that oceans could rise over 3 feet by the end of the century. A rise of this magnitude would effectively overtake much of Kiribati.
During previous court proceedings, New Zealand tribunal member Bruce Burson defined the legal concept of a refugee requires the person to be persecuted, which requires human involvement. Burson added that the Kiribati man’s claim to stay was rejected because he’s plainly not being persecuted. The tribunal also found that there would be no imminent danger if one were to return to Kiribati
Lawyer Kidd countered that the climate persecution his client was facing was caused by humans, and that a climate-induced breakdown of government in Kiribati would be dangerous. Legal analysts don’t expect Kidd to win this particular case, but it might help to eventually redefine what it means to be a refuge.
Kiribati’s government has been working on its own strategies, and is in the process of purchasing 6,000 acres in neighboring Fiji, which could provide refuge for future generations. The country has also contacted a Japanese firm about constructing a floating island, which would cost billions.
Kiribati government spokesman Rimon Rimon thinks that the man has been going about his case in the wrong way, and states, “Kiribati may be doomed by climate change in the near future, but just claiming refugee status due to climate change is the easy way out.” Kiribati has been training its citizens to be skilled workers, so they have a better chance of succeeding elsewhere when they leave. The Kiribati man in New Zealand is working on a farm, and would have a better chance of permanent residency if he had a more specialized trade.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.