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Judge rejects climate refugee plea

An immigrant to New Zealand has lost his claim that he should be given refugee status because climate change is threatening his island home country.

Ioane Teitiota and his wife moved to New Zealand from the low-lying Pacific island of Kiribati in 2007. He argued that rising sea levels made it too dangerous for him and his family to return.

Immigration authorities twice rejected his claims, so he appealed to the High Court which also dismissed the case.

In his decision Judge John Priestley said Mr Teitiota did not fit the definition of a refugee under international guidelines because he was not being directly persecuted.

The judge said if he broadened the definition, millions more people worldwide suffering from natural disasters or warfare would be eligible to become refugees.

Since moving to New Zealand, Teitiota and his wife have had three children. All five are now likely to face deportation, because citizenship is not automatically granted by birth in New Zealand.

The judge said the family might have mounted a case to stay on humanitarian grounds had they not overstayed their visas.

"Unfortunately for the applicant, because he has chosen to remain illegally in New Zealand, he is, under current law, precluded from applying for an immigration permit on humanitarian grounds," he said.

Kiribati, an impoverished string of 33 coral atolls located about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has a populaltion of about 103,000 and has been identified by scientists as among the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

Some scientists have predicted that oceans could rise by more than three feet by the end of the century. If that happened, much of Kiribati would disappear.

But the judge said that was not argument enough. "The history of the last 3,000 years of human kind records huge movements of people, driven in some cases by overpopulation or scarce resources," he said. "But the globe is currently divided between independent sovereign states which would certainly resist unimpeded migration across state boundaries."

-AP

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