For those displaced by disasters, label and legal status remain out of reach

By Anna Patricia Valerio 03 August 2015

Climate refugees participate in a demonstration to demand developed countries provide them migration right. They were evicted from their homes in the coastal area of Bangladesh because of climate change-related effects. Photo by: realdeal09 / CC BY-NC-SA

Last month, New Zealand rejected the appeal of Ioane Teitiota, a man who requested refugee status and cited climate change as the reason that barred his return to his home. Teitiota, from the low-lying island nation of Kiribati, was not the first one to launch such a bid, but he likely won’t be the last to be unsuccessful — at least for now.

Noting that Teitiota and his family, who have been living in New Zealand for years, do not face persecution or “serious harm” in Kiribati and that the Kiribati government is doing what it can to protect its citizens from environmental degradation, New Zealand’s Supreme Court ruled to refuse the bid. But the Supreme Court acknowledged the vulnerability of Kiribati and didn’t exactly eliminate the possibility of welcoming those displaced by disasters in the future.

“This requirement of some form of human agency does not mean that environmental degradation, whether associated with climate change or not, can never create pathways into the [1951] Refugee Convention or protected person jurisdiction,” it said.

According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee is “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

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About the author

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Anna Patricia Valerio

Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.


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