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Judgment: Climate Refugee Claim Appeal Refused

[Full judgment: TeitiotavCEOMinistryBussIE.pdf]

[2013] NZHC 3125




Why does the applicant think he is a refugee?


[14] Overcrowding is a problem which the Kiribati government has had to confront. A long term problem for the Kiribati government is steadily rising ocean levels attributable to climate change.

[15] There is the perception that the inhabitants of Kiribati will be obliged to leave their islands because of rising ocean levels and environmental degradation. This has led to the applicant’s claim for refugee status.

[16] A refugee and protection officer declined to grant the applicant refugee status and/or protected person status. The applicant exercised his statutory right of appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (the Tribunal). In a lengthy and carefully considered decision released on 25 June 2013 the Tribunal held that the applicant was neither a refugee nor a protected person.


What are the applicant’s questions of law?

[40] Mr Kidd advanced six questions of law which were, with respect, somewhat imprecise. They were:

(a) The word “refugee” extends to people who are refugees from climate change and its effects and that by referring to such people as “sociological refugees” the Tribunal had erred.
(b) The Tribunal erred in finding that because all people in Kiribati suffer from the same results of “global warming” this disqualifies the applicant from claiming refugee status.
(c) Green house gases are responsible for rising sea levels and changes of weather patterns (inherent in climate change) and, as such, constitute an indirect but worldwide “human agency”.
(d) The Tribunal had failed to consider Articles 2, 3(a) and 24(1) of the ICCPR as they might relate to the three children of the applicant and had further failed to consider Articles 24(1) and 2(a)-(c) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).
(e) The Tribunal erred in law in not considering the situation of the applicant’s children separately, particularly as regards the effect on them of water and food deprivation as New Zealand born children who, if returned to Kiribati where they had never lived, would suffer serious harm.
(f) The factual finding of the Tribunal that the applicant’s food and water supply were adequate was a “misdirection” because of the evidence of the effects severe overcrowding and future climate change would have on the applicant and his children.



[63] For the reasons which are apparent in the previous sections of this judgment and particularly the “Analysis” section, leave to appeal under s 245 from the 25 June 2013 decision of the Immigration and Protection Tribunal on the grounds that the decision was erroneous on points of law is refused. The attempt to expand dramatically the scope of the Refugee Convention and particularly Article 1A(2) is impermissible. The optimism and novelty of the applicant’s claim does not, in the context of well settled law and the current concerns of the international community, convert the unhappy position of the applicant and other inhabitants of Kiribati into points of law.

[64] The decision of the Tribunal is confirmed.

[Full judgment: TeitiotavCEOMinistryBussIE.pdf]

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