29 Oct 2012

Consultation over climate refugee issues to begin in Pacific

11:49 am on 29 October 2012

A group led by Swiss and Norwegian academics studying what legal frameworks need to be put in place to protect people fleeing natural disasters, will begin a consultation process, starting in the Pacific, next year.

Victims of natural disaster, including climate change, cannot be legally classed as refugees, because they are not being persecuted, but rather are displaced by environmental change.

Through the newly established Nansen Initiative the group is looking at what new laws might be needed to protect them.

A Swiss academic and human rights expert, Professor Walter Kaelin, says with work already done by Tuvalu and Kiribati and the involvement of Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific is a good place to start.

He says they have had a positive response to the Nansen Initiative to date.

"Governments told us it's great that someone is taking this initiative because it is a big challenge. We have to look at governments, civil society. Academics tell us we like your bottom up approach, that you are not coming with pre-cooked ideas."