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    New Zealand makes history becoming the first country to recognize impact of climate change as grounds for asylum



     

    Pacific: New Zealand

    Pacific: Marshall Islands

    Pacific: Micronesia

    Pacific: Kiribati

    Pacific: Palau

    Pacific: Tuvalu

    Pacific: Vanuatu

     

    New Zealand makes history becoming the first country to recognize impact of climate change as grounds for asylum

     

    In March 2018, New Zealand became the first country in the world to recognize the deleterious impact of climate change as grounds for asylum.  

     

    Neighboring island nation states in the Pacific Ocean were experiencing the effects of climate change as an existential crisis.  The rise of sea level, the erosion of coastlines, and loss of potable water and soil needed for survival was impacting the viability of Pacific countries such as the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Palau, among others.  Some countries were expected to be wiped off the map by the end of the century, generating entire nations of environmental refugees. 

     

    Environmental refugees do not enjoy protections under international law as  the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees protects persons fleeing persecution, from war or violence and not environmental crisis.  Moerover, the people of environmentally affected countries often do not want to be classified as refugees anyway. 

    Former President Anote Tong of Kiribati has emphasized that the people of his country, quite likely to be rendered geographically homeless within decades, wanted to “migrate with dignity.”

     

    Against this backdrop,  New Zealand -- led by its Labour Party government, backed by the Green Party --  became the first country in the world to recognize the deleterious impact of climate change as grounds for asylum.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans to create a special visa for Pacific Islanders rendered homseless and forced to relocate because of the rise of sea level.  The program would begin in a limited manner - with only 100 visas offered annually.  However, it would serve as a precdent of sorts, setting an example for other countries to follow and also offer assistance. 

     

    As noted by former Prime Minister Helen Clark via Twitter, New Zealand already had in place "significant migrant quotas for citizens of its Pacific neighbours" as part of its good neighbour policy. The new visa program would build upon this foundation. 

     

    At the international level, the move by New Zealand could encourage assistance by other countries irrespective of legal recognition of refiugee status by the United nations, Moreover,  it is an extension of the   “Protection Agenda” which 109 countries endorsed in 2015, and which seeks to organize resources to help the people affected by catastrophic effects of climate change. 

     


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