17 Sep 2015

'I miss you Dad, I love you so much'

12:54 pm on 17 September 2015

A family desperate to stay in New Zealand as climate change refugees are devastated one of them is being held in police cells and could be deported at any time.

Angua Erika and her 3 children.

Angua Erika and her three children Photo: RNZ / Lauren Baker

Ioane Teitiota was picked up by immigration officers early on Tuesday morning - the culmination of a case that began in 2011 when he overstayed his visa.

Mr Teitiota has been fighting deportation since then, arguing that he, his wife, and their three New Zealand-born children will face rising sea levels, extreme weather and crop destruction as a result of global warming if they are forced back to Kiribati.

Mr Teitiota's wife, Angua Erika, said he was followed by three immigration officers while on his way to work on Tuesday. "They stop at the Fresh Choice, at the supermarket." she said. "So they locked the car and they take the car, and they take Ioane to the police station."

Her voice trembled as she described how officers then visited her at home, where she was with her three children, aged seven and under.

"When the immigration came and they just discuss about what happen to Ioane, and my daughter went to the room and write the note, 'I miss you Dad, I love you so much'. She wanted me to give to one of the ladies, the immigration ladies."

Ms Erika said she did not know what would happen next, or when, but judging by a call from her husband, they could be on the move soon.

He asked her whether she had his passport. "And I said 'is this the last decision for you?' and he say, 'oh yes'."

The family argue that due to man-made climate change, it would a serious threat to their lives in the long term to go to Kiribati.

Despite taking the case through the courts, in July, the Supreme Court ruled that while they would face challenges, they would not face serious harm.

The family has been supported by a local church, and Reverend Alee Talava, who said the family was "destroyed" emotionally.

"They really don't know what to do. It's pretty hard. This is an incident which will leave quite a lot of damage to the children as well."

Mr Teitiota's lawyer Michael Kidd was today applying for bail and was also about to file an application to the United Nations Human Rights Committee for help in the family's bid to be deemed climate change refugees.

"Their right to life is going to be significantly impacted by going back to such a hostile environment," he said.

"There's a lack of fresh water, there's rising sea levels, a lack of ability to grow crops, danger from storms that are coming through, and frequent flooding."

Deportation to go ahead

Immigration New Zealand has confirmed it is going ahead with the deportation and he will be on the next available flight.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse will not be intervening in the case. A spokeswoman for Mr Woodhouse said the decision was for Immigration New Zealand.

Mr Teitiota is still waiting to hear about his lawyer's application for bail, but is set to be sent back next week.

While Mr Kidd says the government would have to act if the UN found in the family's favour, Immigration New Zealand says an application to the UN has no bearing on Mr Teitiota's deportation.

Immigration New Zealand said earlier it was allowed to hold people for up to 96 hours before deporting them, and in that time conducted an interview to make sure deportation was still appropriate.

Meanwhile, Tuvalu's Prime Minister is warning there will be more climate change refugees as the homes and livelihoods of people in low-lying Pacific islands are threatened.

Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, told Morning Report people in low lying islands are already experiencing the impact of rising sea levels.

"We will find, I think, many more people will be seeking similar attention from particularly New Zealand and Australia, so it's not going to be the end."

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