Tuvalu News

19.07.2001 3.13 pm 

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand has been more sympathetic than Australia to the plight of several thousand Tuvaluans who face being forced from their tiny Pacific nation in the next 50 years by rising sea levels. 

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock told ABC radio today that inhabitants of Tuvalu were not entitled to special immigration treatment despite the threat of rising seas, thought to be the result of global warming. 

A Tuvaluan government spokesman today said New Zealand had been supportive and aware of the Tuvaluans' situation when the issue of resettlement had been raised, but there had not been any major breakthrough in their talks with Australia. 

"There are projections of about 50 years - after this we will be drowned." 

Just 26 square kilometres of sandy soil cover the nine coral atolls of Tuvalu, which sit 4.5 metres above sea level, east of the Solomon Islands. 

Around the world, sea levels are rising as greenhouse gases discharged by industrialised countries warm the oceans. 

A report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - a United Nations body that collates the work of 3000 leading scientists - predicted that sea levels would climb 14cm to 80cm by 2110. 

Mr Ruddock said Australia would be willing to join an international response to any environmental disaster in Tuvalu if needed but, in the meantime, Tuvaluans were not entitled to any special treatment. 

"It is not, at the moment, an issue in which the populations of those countries are at risk," he told ABC radio. 

"They have to meet the normal migration criteria that apply to anybody, anywhere in the world, who wants to come to Australia." 

The Tuvaluan government spokesman said people had already started leaving the island. 

"Our people have migrated to the (United) States and lots of people have left for other countries, most noticeably in the last three to five years. 

"There is a fair amount of our Tuvaluan community in New Zealand already." 

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