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Climate crisis: New Zealand urged to make it easier for people moving from sinking islands

Paridhi Bakshi

'There are no formal immigration migrate here for climate reasons'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

New Zealand is being urged to create immigration pathways for people in low-lying Pacific nations - such as Tuvalu and Kiribati - who are leaving their countries because of the increasing effects of climate change.

As a number of islands in the Pacific region face ongoing effects of the climate crisis, residents are struggling to find a way to set up new lives in neighbouring countries, like New Zealand, because there is no formal migration policy for climate-related reasons.

University of Auckland Dr Olivia Yates has been actively working for the oceanic communities to change the future of those migrants.

People falling into lives...without valid visas

She says people who migrate from the islands have to navigate through our existing and what she described as a “wholly insufficient” immigration system.

“As a result, community members are falling through the cracks into lives without valid visas. This is not climate justice,” she said.

Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pictured with children in Tuvalu submerged in a water display as a call to leaders at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum to do more about climate change. Photo / Jason Walls

Carrying out her doctoral research, Yates engaged with the Tuvalu and I-Kiribati communities in Auckland to determine the attitude towards climate change and look at the responsibilities of Aotearoa as a host to future migrants.

Her recently released research report - Preparing for Climate Mobility from Tuvalu and Kiribati to Aotearoa - highlighted the key role New Zealand has to play in supporting those people who wish to move here.

The report advocated a three-pronged approach.

It includes making the journey easier by reforming existing visa pathways and creating a new climate mobility-specific visa pathway, supporting communities to regrow roots by backing community-led initiatives to ease re-settlement burdens and developing a communications strategy to educate and prepare Kiwis for climate mobility from the Pacific.

The report also pinpointed the support needed for the maintenance of cultural identity and roots.

“The research is the result of a four-year project looking at people’s perceptions and the implications of climate mobility, which are essentially movements related to climate change and specifically from Tuvalu and Kiribati,” she said.

‘People are moving away from our little island’

The island of Funafuti in Tuvalu. The United Nations has classified the low-lying South Pacific island nation as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to climate change. Photo / Getty Images

“This is a very tricky thing to do because our Pacific neighbours clearly said that they do not want people to have to migrate because of climate change.”

New Zealand is not actively planning and not putting laws in place that allow for climate-related migration, Yates added.

“They don’t want people to leave to see a loss in the workforce.”

Vaeluaga Iosefa, a Tuvaluan migrant, says that there is no specific allocation of the climate change application and that the government wants families to adapt to it rather than forming a policy.

“Climate change is the major drive, people are moving away from our little island because the effects of it were on our face all the time.”

“Resettlement of the islands is needed not only in terms of physical infrastructure but also in terms of spirituality embracing the physical entity.”

There is also a high rise of concern in preserving cultural identities and heritage which have been the major issues of climate change for a long time.

Although the Tuvalu government has proposed to preserve the cultural heritage from the climate disaster, the lives of the migrants still lie in limbo.

Hero image: A number of low-lying Pacific Island nations including Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati are increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change. Photo / NZME

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