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UN agency hails finding on climate refugees

PTI | Geneva | Updated: 24-01-2020 19:40 IST | Created: 24-01-2020 19:40 IST
UN agency hails finding on climate refugees

Geneva, Jan 24 (AFP) The UN refugee agency praised on Friday an expert panel's finding that sending migrants back to countries severely hit by climate change could breach their human rights. "Whole communities are going to be at increasing risk," said Andrew Harper, special adviser for climate action at UNHCR, praising the UN Human Rights Committee's finding as a "wake-up call".

"We cannot afford to be reactive... We as UNHCR are looking to work with states to see how we can mitigate the impact of what is already evident," he told reporters in Geneva. The committee of experts made their ruling in a case brought by a farmer from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati who was appealing against deportation from New Zealand.

Even though the experts ruled that deportation was justified because the farmer -- Ioane Teitiota -- did not face an immediate risk, the case opens the way for more such litigation. "This is a landmark decision with potentially far-reaching implications for the international protection of displaced people in the context of climate change and disasters," UNHCR said in a statement.

The term "climate refugee" currently has no basis in international law as a refugee is officially defined as someone who crosses a border for fear of persecution. But the UN experts said governments deporting to countries at risk from climate change could be contravening the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN Human Rights Committee is made up of 18 independent experts who issue opinions and recommendations that carry reputational weight, but they have no power to compel states to follow their rulings. Harper said Pacific states like Kiribati were "on the frontline", along with parts of Africa and South Asia.

"If we do not succeed in providing the resilience, the capacity for communities to survive this climactic catastrophe, then we have to be doing much more on the protection front," he said, referring to refugees. (AFP) SCY


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