The Refugee Council of Australia has urged the Australian government to form a new refugee category for people fleeing the impacts of climate change. This would give such people protection similar to people fleeing warzones. Low-lying South Pacific islands are already beginning to bear the brunt of climate change, including rising sea levels, and Australia is a prosperous near neighbour.
The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the relevant legal document, describes a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution in their home nation because of their race, religion, or nationality. Because the document was written back in 1951, it doesn’t yet allow for those claiming protection from the very real effects of climate change.
In neighboring New Zealand last year, a man from Kiribati unsuccessfully claimed to the New Zealand immigration tribunal that he should not be deported from the country because he and his family feared the looming impacts of climate change. Kiribati is only 2 meters about sea level.
The Refugee Council of Australia is arguing that Australia now needs to formally recognise the status of climate change refugees, as it’s obvious that climate change will force thousands of people to flee South Pacific islands in the future.
What are your thoughts on this addition to refugee status? If this is already happening in the South Pacific, there’s no doubt that it will happen in many other parts of the world as well, as climate change starts to bite harder. All these people hit by the effects of climate change will need somewhere else to live.
Image CC licensed by Rafael Ávila Coya: One of the low-lying islands of Republic of Kiribati