Tuvalu News

Tuvalu refugees 'last resort' says Australia

October 26,2008

Source: Adelaide Now

AUSTRALIA will help resettle climate change refugees but only as a last resort, federal immigration officials have admitted.
This has prompted the Greens to call for a new visa category to cover climate change refugees.

Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young raised the issue at a Senate Estimates hearing on Tuesday.

Her questions were triggered by the special report in the Sunday Mail on how rising seas from climate change threaten to overwhelm low-lying Pacific nations such as Tuvalu, which is barely 1m above the high tide mark.

The report detailed how Tuvalu officials were discussing the option of a mass resettlement should rising seas swamp the nation this century and were hoping Australia would accept migrants.

Senator Hanson-Young asked a series of questions, including whether Australia had any commitment to relocating future climate change refugees.

Immigration Department Deputy Secretary Peter Hughes replied that the recent South Pacific Forum issued a declaration saying the first preference of people in nations at risk was to continue living in their home nation.

"Should the situation come to the need for international resettlement, Australia would play a part along with other countries in facilitating that, as we do in other circumstances," he told the hearing.

Mr Hughes said there was international debate about how governments should respond to people displaced by climate change, in forums such as the UN High Commission for Refugees.

This debate had noted some people displaced by climate change may be covered by the UN convention on refugees.

"But in future there could also be a cohort of people displaced who are not covered by any particular formal international instruments or understandings," he said.

"I think the general view that has emerged about climate change displacement is that, first and foremost, the activities of governments ought to be aimed at mitigation of the climate change factors that might displace people, adaptation within countries where that is possible and internal relocation could be part of that adaptation process and, lastly, as a last resort, if needed, international resettlement as a response."

The Federal Government has committed $150 million over three years as part of Australia's international aid budget to address adaptation needs in the Pacific region.

Senator Hanson-Young has since called for a new visa category to be created for climate change refugees.

"We cannot deny Australia's complicity in this environmental crisis that is now impacting most dramatically on those whose homeland is more vulnerable to sea level rise," she said.

"As the wealthiest country in the Pacific, Australia can lead the global community on this humanitarian issue.

"Australia must be proactive in establishing a new class of visa for climate change refugees."

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