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N.Z. refuses Pacific islander climate change refugee status


New Zealand's High Court on Tuesday upheld a decision by the country's immigration authorities to reject a Pacific island man's bid to become the world's first climate change refugee.

Ioane Teitiota, a resident of New Zealand, claims he cannot return safely to the low-lying island of Kiribati in the central Pacific due to the threat of rising seas.

Justice John Priestley stated in his ruling that submissions made by Teitiota's legal team were "unconvincing and must fail."

"The attempt to expand dramatically the scope of the Refugee Convention and particularly Article 1A(2) is impermissible," Priestley wrote.

The article defines a refugee as a person who fears persecution on the basis of "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion," with no mention of climate change.

Teitiota, 37, moved to New Zealand with his wife six years ago, after being concerned about the effects of the climate change and the implications on the family they wish to start. The couple have since had three children.

After his work visa expired, Teitiota appealed to the immigration department to grant him refugee status.

Teitiota's case was originally heard by the department's Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which judged that while Teitiota's accounts of his life on Kiribati were "credible," his claims do not satisfy the requirements to be granted refugee status.

Priestley also denied him permission to appeal against the court's decision, meaning the case is unlikely to go further in the court system.

Kiribati, made up of 32 atolls and one coral island, has been facing rising sea levels threatening the livelihoods of its 100,000 inhabitants.

The country's president, Anote Tong, has made repeated pleas to the international community to assist the country in dealing with the effects of climate change, and he has bought land in the nearby island of Fiji as part of its ongoing contingency plans.