It is estimated that by the year 2050 planet will have 200 million climate refugees. High temperatures will melt the remaining ice surfaces on the poles, raising the sea levels globally and sinking the low lying areas. Even though all the affected countries are already planning the migration process, the recent events indicate that executing this complex task might be even harder than previously thought .
On May 12th, New Zealand’s court of appeal sent the message refusing the citizenship status to the Family from Kiribati who was escaping the consequences of climate change. The court also added that the family can “resume their prior subsistence life with dignity” back in in their homeland.
Why was this case refused? For one, not a refugee under 1A(2) of the refugee convention legal definition, but a refugee under a sociological definition. The court researched whether there was a real chance of the refugee claimant being persecuted in his home country and came to a conclusion that no cases of a “violation” of human rights and a “failure” of state protection were present. If this teaches us one thing, it is that the internal legal system is not fit for the purpose as it creates unequal power relationships, in this case between a country whose home is sinking and a powerful machinery of international law on the other one. Option for mass migration must be added to legal frameworks of all governments around the globe. President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, is already exploring options for mass migration of its nation.
Just like the Maldives, The Kiribati islands will also eventually be swallowed by the surrounding water by the end of this century. Additional threat is the storm season that is annually affecting the islands. Perhaps the most serious is the issue of spreading of climate sensitive diseases, such as dengue fever, diarrhoea and giardiasis. Recently, Kiribati partnered with the EU to open a Public Health Laboratory to help combat these diseases.