Nansen Initiative talks underway in the Cook Islands
The first consultations on the Nansen Initiative, which aims to develop a legal framework for people forced to crosss borders by a natural disaster, are being held in the Cook Islands.
The first of what will be a series of consultations aimed at developing a protective legal framework for people displaced by natural disasters is underway in the Cook Islands.
The Nansen Initiative intends providing legal cover for people forced to cross borders by a natural disaster.
Don Wiseman has more:
The victims of natural disaster are not considered refugees and so are not covered by international law. The Cook Islands prime minister, Henry Puna, says it is an idea whose time has come.
HENRY PUNA: The issues need to be discussed and I'm really proud that the Cook Islands is hosting the first of many dialogues globally. It was a process that I had agreed to with the government of Switzerland at the Auckland energy summit, and I was very happy to offer to host the first of these global consultations, if you like.
While the Pacific is an area that's extremely prone to natural disasters, I guess people being forced across borders is not going to be something that happens very often?
HENRY PUNA: No, but the reality is that, particularly for many of our Pacific neighbours, it is a reality, or rather it is an imminent reality. For example, you look at Kiribati, where the United Nations secretary general was able to visit in 2011 just before the Auckland forum. He was deeply impressed - in a negative way - with what he saw. And as he said at the forum, seeing is believing. And that's really why I think the Pacific should take a leading role in this initiative. For my own country, I am from the island of Manihiki, where we had a major cyclone in 1997 and virtually the entire population was displaced, evacuated from the island. And the impact of that evacuation remains to this day. We've lost a lot of people from the island, who never went back. So I think cross-border displacement is something that we need to start to talk about.
The vice president of Kiribati, Teima Onorio, is one of several Pacific political leaders at the consultations. She says the Nansen Initiative is an opportunity for Kiribati to put its case about the impact that climate change is having on the country.
TEIMA ONORIO: We've seen already the great impact on the livelihood of our people in various islands, having to relocate because of serious coastal erosion and sea-water intrusion. And we feel that this Nansen Initiative provides us that forum to discuss this further, and especially to discuss with the community and other countries also affected by the impact of sudden and slow-onset disasters. Currently, there is no legal framework to protect our people when or if they migrate. So the Nansen Initiative is a good forum to start with to see how we can collaborate with other countries with the community to help address this.
The Nansen Initiative consultations in Rarotonga will be followed by talks in Central America, East Africa and South and Southeast Asia over the next year.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: