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A Pacific islands man says climate change makes him a refugee from his home

Ione Teitiota became the first person to ask a court to grant refugee status on the basis of climate change. He told the High Court in New Zealand that his family would suffer serious harm if they were forced to return to their low-lying homeland, as sea level rise is projected make life there untenable.

Susan Martin, the director of the Center for International Migration at Georgetown University, says the Teitiota case raises ethical and legal questions about how the global community should deal with people forced to flee their homes in the face of climate disruption.

"He's arguing is that because of climate change he is the recipient of passive persecution and will be harmed if he returns home, because climate change is posing very severe dangers and damages," she said.

It's believed to be the first time anyone's made such a claim — and he's a long way from winning, too.

"Refugee policy is designed around protecting people where people have been persecuted or have a fear of future persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group," Martin said. "The whole concept came about after Nazi Europe as a way of responding in the future to cases where people might face very very severe harm as a result of a protected characteristic such as religion or race as that was the case in Germany."

Passive persecution, because of changes in climate, is vastly different from that original concept. Of course, at the end of the day, though, if the seas keep rising, Kirabati won’t be there.

The present realitve tickle of climate refugees is likely to increase like a storm surge. Climate Refugees being treated like refugees of conflicts or persecution is an contentious issue many nations will have to grapple with in the near future.  

Originally posted to Lefty Coaster on Fri Nov 08, 2013 at 01:20 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS.

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