No refugee status for Kiribati man

Last updated 10:47 05/09/2012

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New Zealand immigration authorities have refused refugee status to a man who says the Pacific Island he has fled is sinking as a result of global warming.

His emotional application was refused because the Refugee Convention makes no reference to environmental problems.

The 36-year-old man, who cannot be named, is from Kiribati in the central Pacific.

With all but one of its hundreds of islands little more than five 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.

Within the South Pacific there has been growing debate over the plight of environmental refugees notably from Kiribati and Tuvalu, and also Micronesia and the Marshall Islands.

The I-Kiribati man said he came to New Zealand in 2004 and after his visa expired he sought refugee status.

Under the convention it requires a "well-founded feared of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion...."

The written ruling the man's application notes that he was asked who he feared in Kiribati.

"I do not fear anyone except for Mother Nature's cause (sic) that will eventually sink my island under the sea as Kiribati is in the frontline of the greenhouse effect."

The applicant said his fear was related to his two New Zealand born children.

"I do not want to go back to Kiribati because there is no future for our children there," he said.

"The conditions are bad, water is not adequate, food is hard to get and employment is scarce."

Asked if he would be more affected by the poor conditions on Kiribati than anybody else, he replied: "The problem is common to everyone and people in Kiribati want to move out because there is nothing for them there and even the government is trying to find a place for them."

He was refused refugee status.

"While it is acknowledged that both he and his wife may have experienced some of the hardships and economic difficulties endemic among a significant proportion of the Kiribati population, these cannot be equated to harm specifically directed at him by the government, non-state agent or anyone else," the report says.

"There is no evidence of a deliberate act or omission by the Kiribati government, or of it making the choice not to remedy the situation for (him)."

The conditions he and his children will "fall short by some margin" of meeting the refugee criteria.

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The report notes that when he left Tabiteuea atoll, south of the capital atoll Tarawa, its 5000 people were suffering rising sea levels, coastal erosion, flooding and salt water contamination, failure of arable crops, overcrowding and sickness due to sewerage contamination of drinking water.

The Refugee Protection Officer who wrote the report said the man was "co-operative, sincere and willing... No issues or concerns emerged from (his) testimony."

The officer's decision can be appealed.

The officer's report noted that the New Zealand government had quadrupled its aid to Kiribati between 2008 and 2012.

Current aid worth $25 million includes improved household water and sanitation, a "climate-proofed" subdivision on South Tarawa, improved sewage and small businesses.

- Stuff

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