Islanders ask New Zealand to stop deportation of climate refugees

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Wellington (dpa) – A delegation of Pacific islanders urged New Zealand legislators Tuesday to prevent the government from deporting a Kiribati family who sought refugee status on the basis of climate change.

Ioane Teitiota has been in prison since his arrest in Auckland last Tuesday and is scheduled to be deported on Wednesday. His wife Angua Erika and their three New Zealand-born children have also been served with deportation orders.

Reverend Sumalie Naisali, a Kiribati community leader from Auckland, was joined at parliament by people from Tuvalu and Kiribati to plead Teitiota’s case.

Opposition Labour parliamentarian Phil Twyford, in whose west Auckland electorate the Teitiota family have been living, has also taken up their case.

“I have on their behalf asked the Associate Immigration Minister Craig Foss to intervene and stop the family from being deported and allow them to stay in New Zealand on humanitarian grounds,” Twyford said. “(This) is a discretion that is not infrequently used in these kinds of cases.

“The minister has the power to intervene right up until the plane leaves the tarmac.”

Twyford said the family would face difficult conditions if they were sent back to their low-lying central Pacific Island homeland.

“They would be going back to South Tarawa on Kiribati, which is one of the most overcrowded places on the planet and one that is very badly affected by rising sea levels, (with) contamination of water supply and salination of gardens.

“When there is a high tide and there are storms, seawater laps around people’s ankles in their houses.”

A spokesman for Foss said he had received Twyford’s request on Friday and was awaiting a briefing from immigration officials before deciding whether to intervene.

The Teitiota family lost their final bid to qualify for refugee status in July, when the Supreme Court ruled they would not face serious harm if they returned home.

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