New Zealand court rejects climate asylum request from Kiribati citizen

New Zealand’s Court of Appeal rejected the submission for asylum of Ioane Teitiota, local and international media sources reported on Monday (May, 12). Teitiota, a 37 years-old farmer and fisherman in the Pacific island state of Kiribati, moved to New Zealand with his family in 2007 and has been living there illegally since 2010 after his work visa expired. He asked for asylum in New Zealand as the low-lying islands of Kiribati are under threat due to global warming and rising sea levels.

In 2013 the High Court rejected his argument, even though it acknowledged that Kiribati was suffering environmental degradation attributable to climate change, including storm surges, flooding and water contamination. The final ruling by the Court of Appeal confirmed the decision, meaning that the asylum-seeker could be deported.

According to NBC, the appeal court said Teitiota’s claim for recognition as a refugee is “fundamentally misconceived”, as it does not fall within the definition of a refugee as spelled out in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, that refers to people in danger of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The Court added that climate change is “a major and growing concern for the international community”, but “its effect on countries like Kiribati is not appropriately addressed under the Refugee Convention”.