A Kiribati man who says he should be given refugee status because of the effects of global warming on his island, has been denied the chance to challenge a decision refusing him asylum in New Zealand.
Ioane Teitiota, who is facing deportation after overstaying his visa, has been denied leave to appeal at the High Court against an Immigration and Protection Tribunal decision to refuse asylum.
Annell Husband reports:
Mr Teitiota arrived in New Zealand in 2007 and his three children were born in the country. His lawyer Michael Kidd spelled out how high tides are breaching sea walls on his island and rising ocean levels contaminating drinking water, killing crops and flooding homes. But Justice Priestley upheld the original Immigration Tribunal decision, saying Mr Teitiota would not suffer a sustained and systemic violation of his basic human rights if he returned to Kiribati. He says under the United Nations convention a refugee is a person with a well-founded fear of persecution on specific grounds and that people who flee due to national disaster or global warming have become refugees in a way not caused by persecution. But Mr Kidd disagrees.
"MICHAEL KIDD: With respect to the judge, that's absurd. And the evidence before both the tribunal and the judge is of course why so many people around the world have followed the case. It's such a horrendous situation to send people back to."
In the meantime, Mr Teitiota and his family are in a difficult situation.
MICHAEL KIDD: I was surprised that the judge basically said, 'Well, this is not about the mother and the children because they haven't applied - it's just about Mr Teitiota'. But the reality of course is if they deport him they'll be deporting the mother and kids.
Mr Teitiota's wife, Angua Erica, says the case is about securing a future for the couple's three children, two of whom have severe eczema.
ANGUA ERICA: I don't think that you know when they go back to Kiribati they use the salty water to bath, to shower, so I think it's not work for them. They can get very sick when they get back.
Angua Erica says she and her husband are very concerned about rising sea levels.
ANGUA ERICA: It is very dangerous, just like the Philippines. So we think and imagine about that but that's not good for us, especially for the kids.
Justice Priestley's decision was based partly on the dangers of setting a precedent whereby many more people could apply to become climate change refugees. It's been suggested international refugee criteria should be updated to include climate change but an environmental lawyer at AUT University Law School, Vernon Rive advises against that.
VERNON RIVE: People who are currently seeking asylum or refugee status are finding it difficult enough as it is and if it was opened up to cover people affected by climate change and environmental degradation then the entire system might fall apart.
Mr Teitiota's lawyer Michael Kidd says they have until just before Christmas to lodge an appeal.