After a four-year legal battle to be recognized as the world’s first global warming refugee, Ioane Teitiota is being sent back home to the island nation of Kiribati after he ran out of legal avenues with which to extend his stay in New Zealand.
“I’m sure people feel for the guy… (but) in my eyes, he’s not a refugee, he’s an overstayer,” New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said this week.
Teitiota first came to New Zealand with his wife in 2007. The couple had three kids while in New Zealand. He was caught overstaying his visa in 2011 when he was apprehended over a traffic incident. He spent the next four years trying to delay his deportation by claiming he was a refugee of global warming.
Teitiota claimed that rising sea levels destroyed his crops and contaminated the island’s water supplies. But his bid to be declared the world’s first “climate change refugee” were rejected by New Zealand’s Supreme Court last July.
“While Kiribati undoubtedly faces challenges, Mr. Teitiota does not, if returned face ‘serious harm,'” the court ruled. “There is no evidence that the government of Kiribati is failing to take steps to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation, to the extent that it can.”
For years, the United Nations and environmentalists warned there would be tens of millions of people forced to leave their homes due to global warming. The United Nations predicted there would be 50 million climate refugees by 2010 — a number that failed to materialize.
Scientists have been warning that Pacific Island nations, like Kiribati, were at high risk of being demolished by bigger storm surges and more severe storms. It’s unclear island nations are being hit harder by sea level rise or more devastating storms.
“What we’ve been doing is trying to save this family seeking asylum here in New Zealand because of a form of persecution by climate change,” Reverend Iosefa Suamalie, Teitiota’s pastor, told Radio New Zealand. “Going back to Kiribati, there is no life, there is no hope. We are sending back the children to a place that is not safe for them.”
Interestingly enough, Kiribati’s tidal gauge shows the sea level around the island nation has been falling in recent decades.
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