Climate change migration the focus of Kiribati summit
Kiribati prepares to host an international conference aiming to develop a mechanism to cater for people forced to migrate by climate change.
Next week Kiribati is bringing together other atoll nations and key international agencies to consider how to cater for climate-induced migrants.
The meeting in Tarawa, called a High Level Meeting on Climate Induced Migration, aims to consider a topic that is not being openly addressed around the world.
The Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Akka Rimon, told Don Wiseman her country and other others, such as Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives, are being proactive is looking to help those displaced by climate change.
AKKA RIMON: So as reports like the IPCC are saying in 30 or less years from now, our islands will be submerged - how do we deal with that? I guess the indications are pretty strong and that is what we are taking heed of, that there will be some relocation required and it is going to be necessary something that is unavoidable on our part. So how do we do this and avoid becoming refugees? I think you have heard about our Government, our President speak about us not wanting to be refugees in our own home in our own islands. So how do we migrate, as worthwhile citizens, how do we migrate with dignity. And I think that is part of what the discussions at the high level dialogue next week will really focus on. And we have got people that we have been talking with and working together with on this topic to try and get some international, intergovernmental process, for example on how to establish a protective gap.
DON WISEMAN: There was a lot of interest in New Zealand itself just a week or so ago when a Kiribati man was deported. He had been applying for refugee status for environmental reasons, because of climate change and got turned down. What was the reaction in Kiribati to that?
AK: I don't know. We better not confuse the issue, because it is a pretty straight forward case. It is dealing with the laws of another country and that is something that our government does not want to have anything to do with. We do not agree totally to becoming refugees in our homeland. So, as I have alluded to earlier on, we don't like being associated as refugees, so I do not know how that is being addressed but of course this is one of the challenges that we will face in the future and how that will be addressed is a bigger question that even today we don't have the answer to. But in terms of the event next week it is really how we are doing something for ourselves. So Kiribati and other countries like Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are getting together and saying, look it is taking long to wait for multi-lateral process and negotiations. So what do we do to help ourselves. And this is one of them, just getting together, getting the help of UN agencies who have also done some messages on this topic and then for them to say this is what is possible. This is how we can help and this is how you can help yourself.
DW: Do you imagine it is going to lead to some form of mechanism that will just come into play when things become absolutely untenable on a particular island. Or is it going to be a need for international law being applied?
AK: Well there is nothing in the international law that is really addressing this particular issue like I said earlier on, and for us there is really demand and burning issues as to how this will be addressed because it concerns not only the integrity of our islands but the future of our people and our children and how do we go about this if we were to inform our people of the future that we want to create for them, what do we do from now. And I guess this is part of the gradual process of preparation. In response to the question that you are raising with regards to how we want this to be addressed. I guess its already happening with countries, New Zealand and Australia for example are already helping labour mobility programs. So that is one example where they are supporting this initiative. A lot of equipping of skills for our young people are happening right now in the country and the same is also taking place in other parts of the Pacific. So there is that move towards greater preparation towards the scenario that we are now foreseeing to be happening in years to come.
DW: In terms of labour mobility does there need to be a lot more of it?
AK: Well we are trying to promote more of that, certainly, yes. It is really us now faced with a dilemma where what do we do, and where do we go and what do we do from here if the time comes for us to go. So yes it is going to require more labour mobility programs. More opportunities for us to be able to migrate and become citizens of other countries.
DW: Now, there has been a Swiss/Norwegian scheme called the Nansen Initiative they are looking at this and have been for several years. Looking at this idea of trying to develop a law to cover climate induced migration. Are you working with them in anyway?
AK: Absolutely, absolutely it just so happens that next week's high level dialogue will also clash with the Nansen Initiative meeting which is taking place also the same week. We have been a part of the Nansen Initiative. Like I said they are pretty much working on something that we are prioritising as something urgent that needs a pressing response. And yes we are working with them and a lot of the things that the Nansen Initiative is promoting are exactly what we are promoting. I guess for us in the islands it is really more the realities of what is happening everyday. Whereas the Nansen Initiative is more theoretical and what they foresee to be one of the biggest catastrophes to happen as a result of climate change.
DW: The Paris COP 21 is coming up in just over a month or so. Your people have said that regardless of what happens there is still going to need to be something put in place for climate induced migration. So in terms of this particular meeting are you hoping that there might be a decision at the end of it that will have some sort of significant effect?
AK: Yes. Like the rest of the Pacific is really counting on a decision that we feel the world must come together and reach in Paris and that would be the conclusion of a climate agreement that would impact on everyone's livelihood and future. Whether that is achieved or not it is really not going to have much difference to us or have any impact on us because it is already too late for us to adapt to the changes and we cant reverse the situations that are happening. But yes we do want some sort of agreement to come out. We want the Paris 21 to be concluded with the agreement on climate change to be concluded. And in terms of migration with dignity and what we are trying to discuss now with leaders and partners. We also would like to see that step forward some action is progressed on this. So we are able to address some of the questions we are now asking about ourselves and our future.
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