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Climate Refugees Are Invisible to International Law

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RefugeeWikipedia

In September, a New Zealand court turned down a refugee petition from a Kiribati man whose south Pacific island homeland is disappearing under rising seas as a result of climate change. The decision, Brian Palmer writes [1] in Pacific Standard, exposes a gaping hole in international law that is bound to become more troublesome as tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions of people flee increasingly uninhabitable—or entirely vanishing—homes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugee [2]

Wikipedia

International rules on refugees are governed by a Conventio [3]n agreed upon in 1951—long before climate change was recognized as a threat. It restricts the legal right to refuge to people who have fled a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” in their home country and who cannot or are afraid to return to that country.

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People forced from their homes by natural disasters, drought, floods, or crop failure, are in the same figurative boat as those fleeing advancing seas: international law does not recognize them as ‘legitimate’ refugees. The absence of recognition, Palmer writes, has “the effect of locking some of the world’s most indigent and at-risk people in their circumstances.”

The New Zealand judges who issued the verdict worried that by accepting one climate refugee, “millions of people who are facing medium-term economic deprivation, or the immediate consequences of natural disasters or warfare … would be entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention.” As Palmer drily notes, “’Medium-term economic deprivation,’ is a rather understated way to describe having one’s home drown in the sea.”