Kiribati climate change refugee told he must leave New Zealand

Climate Change and rising sea levels at threatening the Kiribati Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
JUSTIN MCMANUS

Climate Change and rising sea levels at threatening the Kiribati Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

A man seeking to be the world's first climate change refugee has been booked on a flight home to Kiribati on Wednesday, despite his lawyer saying that is a breach of justice.

Ioane Teitiota has been in custody in Mt Eden Prison after his bid to claim climate change refugee status was dismissed last week. 

He was arrested by police and immigration officials at his West Auckland home on Tuesday morning for overstaying his permit.

He has been ordered to remain in custody until his flight or for a further seven days in case of complications. At the Waitakere District court on Monday, Judge Stan Thorburn said there was no dispute that Teitiota was in New Zealand illegally and only came to be noticed on an unrelated police matter.

"Today it appears he has pursued all avenues open to him through the judicial and tribunal process and has failed."

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The judge said the district court was not a forum where the complex matters of the case could be addressed, he could only grant an order to release Teitiota from custody. "It seems to me that the intent must be at large that if there was no warrant of commitment and he was released on conditions, he would evade deportation on the 23rd of September."

Teitiota's family, from Kiribati, have fought numerous legal battles to stay in New Zealand as climate change refugees rather than return to the island nation, which is threatened by rising sea levels.

Immigration New Zealand said there was no point releasing Teitiota so close to his deportation date as there was a risk he would go to ground and avoid the Wednesday afternoon flight which had been booked for him.

Immigration New Zealand has also booked Teitiota's family on the same flight if they were to co-operate, which it said hadn't happened yet.

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Teitiota's lawyer Michael Kidd said he supported the Government's recent decision to welcome more Syrian refugees but it was ignoring those left stranded in our own backyard. 

He said any appeals to the United Nations and appeals to MP Phil Twyford's office would stop with a deportation as he would not have access to his client.

Kidd also delivered a petition to Judge Thorburn from the Kiribati community, though the judge said he was not sure it would be appropriate to receive that as his powers as a district court judge were limited. 

Teitiota and his family are desperate to stay in New Zealand, saying they don't want to return to their polluted and potentially dangerous home country.

He was denied bail on Thursday and was therefore able to be held in custody for up to 96 hours.  

Teitiota's latest effort to persuade New Zealand's highest court fell flat in July, when the Supreme Court said Teitiota and his family did not qualify as refugees.

"In relation to the Refugee Convention, while Kiribati undoubtedly faces challenges, Mr Teitiota does not, if returned, face 'serious harm' and there is no evidence that the Government of Kiribati is failing to take steps to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation to the extent that it can," the court's decision said.

Kidd said Teitiota and his family feared returning to the Pacific Island nation, which was threatened by the effects of global warming.

He said there was still hope to pursue further avenues over the next two days.

Teitiota, his wife and their three New Zealand-born children were in the process of mounting their appeal when he was arrested.

Kidd said he believed the family had a strong case under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which New Zealand had voluntarily signed.

If Teitiota's children were forced to return to Kiribati "his children will doubtlessly fall ill" as they were not used to the water pollution and human waste contamination, Kidd said.

"New Zealand is returning him and his family to a situation where there is danger from a number of things such as rising sea levels and pollution of fresh water and the possibility of cyclones destroying the place."

Teitiota was also unlikely to be able to get a job in Kiribati and would have to rely on family, who were also struggling.

Teitiota and his wife came to New Zealand in 2007 and remained after their permits expired in October 2010.

Although their three children were born in New Zealand, none of them are entitled to New Zealand citizenship.

Outside court Kidd said the only thing that could stop deportation now would be a letter from the minister, which he would try for. He said the judge had summed up the matter well but he felt as though the courts were passing the buck on this case.

 - Stuff

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