New Zealand Judge Rejects Refugee Claim Based on Climate Change

Man from Kiribati had claimed that rising sea levels made his home too dangerous


WELLINGTON, New Zealand—A New Zealand judge on Tuesday rejected a Kiribati man's claim that he should be granted refugee status because of climate change.

Ioane Teitiota and his wife moved to New Zealand from the low-lying Pacific island nation in 2007. He argued that rising sea levels make it too dangerous for him and his family to return to Kiribati.

Immigration authorities twice rejected his claims, so he appealed to the High Court.

In his decision, Judge John Priestley said Teitiota did not fit the definition of a refugee under international guidelines because he was not being directly persecuted.

The judge said if he broadened the definition, millions more people worldwide suffering from natural disasters or warfare would be eligible to become refugees.

Since moving to New Zealand, Teitiota and his wife have had three children. All five are now likely to face deportation, because citizenship isn't automatically granted by birth in New Zealand.