Storm Warning: New Zealand's Treatment of "Climate Refugee" Claims as a Violation of Internatinal Law
As some countries begin to acknowledge the increasingly strong effects of climate change, others have struggled with its slow onset of effects for decades. Coastal communities, especially island nations at or slightly above sea level, face not only threats of flooding and damaging storms, but also rising sea levels jeopardizing soil and water health. As citizens of these coastal regions face increasing difficulty accessing food, water, and medical care, the United Nations‘ (“U.N.”) scientific bodies predict there will be staggering numbers of displaced persons within the next few decades. Island nations rising two meters above sea-level face total submersion by 2050, and will increasingly feel the serious effects from encroaching sea water as it contaminates their fresh water sources. Although refugee protections are already enshrined in international law, the specific distinction of “climate refugee” does not yet exist. Thus, fewer protections are afforded to those fleeing instability in their countries due to climate change. However, alternative frameworks exist, such as the protection of the right to life and the freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under Articles 6 and 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), respectively. New Zealand, having arbitrated numerous applications for refugee status from applicants claiming that returning home would place their lives in danger from effects of climate change, has consistently denied requests for refugee status and deported applicants back to their home countries where they face hardship from the effects of ongoing climate change.
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