New Zealand considers creating visas for climate change refugees

As climate change forces people from their homes, New Zealand is pondering the creation of a visa for climate ‘refugees’ from Pacific islands

Plans are being drawn up by the government in New Zealand to create a new visa for climate change refugees. If implemented, it would be a world-first.

James Shaw – the Green party leader made climate change minister in the new Labour-led coalition government – said it was considering introducing “an experimental humanitarian visa category” for Pacific Ocean islanders who find themselves displaced by rising sea levels.

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“It is a piece of work that we intend to do in partnership with the Pacific islands,” Shaw told Radio New Zealand.

Climate change is set to displace millions of people over the coming decades; among the most vulnerable are the inhabitants of low-lying Pacific islands such as Kiribati, which is slowly disappearing under the ocean.

It is a piece of work that we intend to do in partnership with the Pacific islands

A number of people from Kiribati and Tuvalu have already applied to live in New Zealand, claiming they are victims of climate change. However, their bids have been rejected because the country does not currently accommodate environmental refugees; only people who risk being persecuted by race, religion, nationality or by membership of a political or religious group.

A mother and her daughter in Kiribati. Land there is slowly being consumed by the sea forcing people to relocate. Image: Jonas Gratzer / Getty Images

Creating this category of visa would, in theory, make it easier for future applicants, but it remains to be seen how New Zealand would legally determine whether or not someone seeking asylum was able to live in their home country.

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