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Judgment: Teitiota v MBIE - 'climate refugee' claim

[Full judgment: Teitiota_v_MBIE_CA502014_judgment.pdf]


A The application for an extension of time for the leave application is granted.

B The application for leave to appeal to the High Court is dismissed.

C The applicant is to pay the respondent’s costs as for a standard application for leave to appeal under r 14 of the Court of Appeal (Civil) Rules 2005 on a band A basis with usual disbursements.



[5] Mr Teitiota is unlawfully in New Zealand. He and his wife came here from Kiribati in 2007 and remained after their permits expired, in Mr Teitiota’s case on 7 October 2010. Although their three children were born in New Zealand none is entitled to New Zealand citizenship.

[6] After being apprehended, Mr Teitiota applied for refugee status and/or protected person status. That was declined in a decision of a Refugee and Protection Officer. Mr Teitiota then appealed to the Tribunal. Mr Teitiota applied only for himself. The Tribunal asked Mr Teitiota’s counsel why the application had not extended to Mr Teitiota’s wife and the three children. Mr Kidd’s explanation was that “the health authorities and the kindergarten” had continued to care for the children, notwithstanding that applications for refugee status had not been filed on their behalf.

[7] At the start of its admirably well structured, carefully reasoned and comprehensive decision the Tribunal summarised the basis for Mr Teitiota’s application and the issue it needed to decide in this way:

[2] The appellant claims an entitlement to be recognised as a refugee on the basis of changes to his environment in Kiribati caused by sea-level-rise associated with climate change. The issue for determination is whether the appellant is able to bring himself within the Refugee Convention or New Zealand’s protected person jurisdiction on this basis.



[39] For the reasons we have given, it is not appropriate to grant leave to appeal to the High Court on any of the proposed six questions of law.

[40] Although the Court has every sympathy with the people of Kiribati, Mr Teitiota’s claim for recognition as a refugee is fundamentally misconceived. It attempts to stand the Convention on its head. Priestley J succinctly explained why:

[55] The appellant raised an argument that the international community itself was tantamount to the “persecutor” for the purposes of the Refugee Convention. This completely reverses the traditional refugee paradigm. Traditionally a refugee is fleeing his own government or a non-state actor from whom the government is unwilling or unable to protect him. Thus the claimant is seeking refuge within the very countries that are allegedly “persecuting” him. …

[41] No-one should read this judgment as downplaying the importance of climate change. It is a major and growing concern for the international community. The point this judgment makes is that climate change and its effect on countries like Kiribati is not appropriately addressed under the Refugee Convention.


[42] The application for leave to appeal to the High Court is dismissed.

[43] The applicant is to pay the costs of the respondent as for a standard application for leave to appeal under r 14 of the Court of Appeal (Civil) Rules 2005 on a band A basis with usual disbursements.

[Full judgment: Teitiota_v_MBIE_CA502014_judgment.pdf]

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