30 Sep 2015

Climate refugee claims await decisions

2:06 pm on 30 September 2015

Eleven people have claimed asylum in New Zealand in the last four years because of climate change, Immigration New Zealand figures show.

Islands in the Ha’apai group have been badly damaged.

Islands in Tonga's Ha'apai group were badly damaged in Cyclone Ian last year. Photo: RNZAF

Ioane Teitiota, who claimed to be the world's first climate change refugee, was deported to Kiribati last week after losing his appeal to stay in New Zealand.

His wife, Angua Erika, and her three New Zealand-born children aged between 2 and 7, are scheduled to leave the country today.

Two more families have lodged claims for asylum based on the effects of natural disasters and climate change and are awaiting a refugee branch decision.

The lawyer in these other cases, Richard Small, said they were from Tongan islands ravaged by Cyclone Ian last year, where people are still living in tents.

Damaged houses in the village on the island.

Conditions on one of the Tongan islands subject to a refugee claim Photo: Supplied

He said there were many more claims based on climate change, such as people fleeing villages flooded by Cyclone Pam, but they were not being counted as such by the Government.

"We do have clients from Kiribati and Tuvalu for whom Cyclone Pam... earlier this year was just the last straw.

"They have had their villages flooded, causeways [have] collapsed.

"These are not actual refugee claims, but they are at various stages of requests with Immigration New Zealand or the minister."

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal last year said climate change could be a factor in establishing a need for humanitarian protection.

It turned down a refugee claim, but granted residence visas, to a family from Tuvalu.

A damaged house on an island in Tonga's  Ha’apai group.

Conditions on an island in Tonga's Ha'apai group. Photo: SUPPLIED

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