24 May 2013

Cooks leader says time now to talk about disaster refugees

1:50 pm on 24 May 2013

The prime minister of the Cook Islands, Henry Puna, says the time has come for the world to consider how to protect people forced by natural disasters to cross borders.

Victims of natural disaster are not considered refugees so are not protected under international law.

But an effort to correct this is underway, led by European academics, with the first consultations happening in Rarotonga.

Mr Puna says the threat of Pacific peoples being forced to seek refuge in other countries after a disaster is very real.

He cites Kiribati's fears about climate change and, closer to home, the impact of a major cyclone on his home island of Manihiki in 1997.

"And virtually the entire population was displaced, evacuated from the island and the impact of that evacuation remainS to this day. We have lost a lot of people from the island who never went back. So I think cross-border displacement is something we need to be starting to talk about."