Family face 'tough environment' in Kiribati

6:39 pm on 23 September 2015

The father of a family claiming climate change makes them refugees in New Zealand has been deported.

A seawall protecting a home from coastal erosion in Kiribati, climate change.

A seawall protects a home from coastal erosion in Kiribati. Photo: UNDP / Sheryl Ho

Ioane Teitiota is being accompanied by a police officer back to Kiribati.

Mr Teitiota's wife and three New Zealand-born children have also been served notices, and are likely to leave next week.

His wife, Angua Erika, said the family were able to say goodbye at Auckland Airport's police station.

"He told the kids 'be brave and be strong and we will see you soon next week'. They said we are overstayers but we are not. We are trying to find a better life for the kids."

Ioane Teitiota's wife, Angua Erika, with one of the couple's three children at Auckland International Airport on Wednesday 23 September 2015. The family's application to be considered refugees from the effects of climate change in Kiribati has been declined, and Mr Teitiota is being deported today.

Ioane Teitiota's wife, Angua Erika, with one of the couple's three children at Auckland Airport. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

Ioane Teitiota's wife, Angua Erika, with the couple's three children at Auckland International Airport on Wednesday 23 September 2015. The family's application to be considered refugees from the effects of climate change in Kiribati has been declined, and Mr Teitiota is being deported today.

The rest of the family are expected to follow Mr Teitiota to Kiribati next week. Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

Labour MP Phil Twyford said that the family were being sent back to a shanty town that flooded at high tide.

Mr Twyford, who lobbied the government on behalf of Mr Teitiota, told Morning Report the family's three children knew nothing of the atoll where they would now live.

He said that while they were not refugees, it would be decent and compassionate to let the family stay.

"When the tide is high, the water literally laps around the ankles in people's houses. The water supply is contaminated; the gardens are salinated so you can't grow things," he said.

"It's a massive shanty town on a tiny little strip of atoll. That's a tough environment for these people to be sent back to."

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A bird's eye view of Tarawa, which is the main atoll in Kiribati. Photo: RNZ

Last night, Associate Immigration Minister Craig Foss announced he would not intervene in the deportation of Mr Teitiota and his family.

Mr Foss said he received a briefing from Immigration New Zealand before his decision.

Prime Minister John Key had earlier also rejected the family's bid to stay in New Zealand, saying, as far as the government was concerned, Mr Teitiota was an overstayer.

New Zealand 'overlooking neighbours'

Meanwhile, an immigration lawyer is calling for the government to create a new quota for Pacific Islanders displaced by natural disasters and climate change.

Richard Small, the director of Pacific Legal in Wellington, said Mr Teitiota was only one of many who needed help from New Zealand.

Mr Small said people were still living in tents on the Tongan island of Ha'apai since Cyclone Ian at the start of last year.

He said New Zealand was overlooking its neighbours

"They are in some ways less in the media spotlight, and less visible, than people a world away who are suffering incredibly in the Mediterranean Sea."

Mr Small said he also had cases arguing humanitarian reasons for why people should not be forced back to Kiribati and Tuvalu after Cyclone Pam.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the government would not be creating a separate quota, and refugee protection was best dealt with by the United Nations.

"There are 102,000 people on Kiribati. There are several thousand more on Tuvalu. If we get to a situation where there is a wholesale relocation of the population because of sea level rises as a consequence of global warming, we've got a completely different scenario to address," he said.

"That is a long way off yet and I think that should be part of a wider international response."

Mr Woodhouse said it was too early to say what the scale of that international response would be.

Houses are still badly damaged months after Cyclone Ian.

Houses in Tonga were still badly damaged months after Cyclone Ian. Photo: Richard Small

Tuvalu - tidal surges caused by cyclone Pam

Tidal surges flood Tuvalu during Cyclone Pam. Photo: Supplied

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