'Climate refugee' bid denied

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 13:30 24/09/2013

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A man from Kiribati, an island nation threatened by rising sea levels, has lost another bid to live in New Zealand with his wife as refugees along with their New Zealand-born children.

Bruce Burson with the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT), said he accepted a "sad reality" that Kiribati and its people were facing environmental degradation and disaster.

However, that did not mean they could claim refugee status in New Zealand.

He was dealing with an application by "AF", who has already had his bid to stay rejected by Immigration New Zealand.

He will now take the IPT rejection to the High Court.

With all but one of its hundreds of islands little more than 5 metres above sea level, Kiribati sees itself as one of the world's first victims of sea-level rise linked to global warming.

Its president, Anote Tong, has suggested moving most of its 102,000 people to Fiji or even building oil platform-type accommodation. Kiribati has also bought land in Fiji to grow crops.

In his written decision, Burson quoted expert witness John Corcoran. Corcoran told the tribunal Kiribati was in crisis as a result of population pressure and climate change.

Overcrowding on the capital atoll of Tarawa meant people lived in slum-like conditions amidst social tension.

"Fights, often involving knives, break out and, from time to time, people are injured and killed."

Sea-level rise was seeping into the freshwater lens beneath the atoll.

"The vegetation has died back in many places, leaving a barren land."

Freshwater is rationed.

Burson said children were having health problems and some deaths were reported.

"Life generally became progressively more insecure on Tarawa as a result of sea-level-rise," Burson said.

AF decided to try to leave but there was no land anywhere in Kiribati for the family. They came to New Zealand in 2007 on a work permit and had three children here.

His wife did not want to leave.

"The land was being eaten away because of the effects of sea-level rise," Burson said.

"Their drinking water was being contaminated with salt. Crops were dying, as were the coconut trees. She was particularly concerned for the safety of her children."

Burson said he found AF credible and his account was told candidly and openly.

"It is accepted in its entirety."

Burson said AF's claim under the Refugee Convention must fail because the effects of environmental degradation on his standard of living were, by his own admission, faced by the population generally.

"The sad reality is that the environmental degradation caused by both slow and sudden-onset natural disasters is one which is faced by the Kiribati population generally."

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The risks to AF and his family "falls well short of the threshold required to establish substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of arbitrary deprivation of life".

Burson noted AF's wife feared that her children could be drowned in a tidal event or storm surge.

- Fairfax Media

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