A man from a Pacific island nation of Kiribati has asked a New Zealand court to let him appeal a decision to recognise him as an asylum seeker and allow him to stay in the country as a climate change refugee.
The world's first "climate change refugee", 37-year-old Ioane Teitota, fled from Kiribita which was identified as the most vulnerable to rising sea levels and other effects of climate change.
Mr Teitiota made an appeal for the High Court in Auckland to grant him asylum. The High Court rejected his asylum seeker claims on the grounds that Mr Teitiota has no legal basis such as threats to life or fear of persecution.
The man claiming to be a climate change refugee came to New Zealand in 2007 along with his family. He has three children who were born in Kiribati. Mr Teitiota told the court that he can no longer go home to his own country since he believes there was no land to return to.
He said there will be no future for his family if he will be forced to go back. Michael Kidd, Mr Teitiota's legal representative said the case hits the outdated refugee laws.
Mr Kidd said the refugee laws should include people who are trying to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. The refugee convention was enacted at the end of the Second World War. According to a climate change report, low-lying islands like Kiribati will be at risk to rising sea levels.
The New Zealand High Court reserved its decision when it heard the case on Oct. 16.
Leading climate change scientists, including those from New Zealand, said that human activity is the biggest contributor of global warming.
Mr Teitiota's claim for refugee status in New Zealand described how the high tides were dangerously close to breaching seawalls. His case also spelled out that rising water levels cause contamination in drinking water and flooding in homes.
New Zealand's Immigration and Protection Tribunal recognises that Mr Teitiota's claims are genuine. However, the tribunal said he was also in the same position as the rest of his countrymen who are already finding ways to minimise the impact of rising sea levels.
Kiribati is located halfway between Australia and Ecuador. It has bought land in Fiji for the construction of a possible resettlement of its people displaced by rising sea levels. The land will also be used for growing food as the country views its resettlement plans as "migration with dignity."
Australia and New Zealand have rejected calls to revise immigration rules to accommodate people from low-lying islands in the Pacific losing their homes to climate change.
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