Climate change not a reason to halt Tuvaluan couple's deportation, tribunal rules
A Tuvaluan couple have had their appeals against deportation denied, despite arguments they face an uncertain future due to climate change affecting their island home . Puatua Teaitala and Miliama Paitela, aged 77 and 68 respectively, came to New Zealand in 2019 on visitor visas and have lived here since. In August 2021, the couple were granted special visas as they could not return home due to border closures amid the Covid pandemic . They became unlawfully in New Zealand and liable for deportation when those expired in October. In an appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal , Teaitala and Paitela said they wanted to remain in New Zealand, where their two youngest children, aged 37 and 36, are permanent residents. READ MORE: * Canterbury floods: Is climate change to blame for severe weather events? * Wildfires, disease and food loss predicted for world's climate future - research * As disasters surge, nations must slash emissions faster, climate experts urge They would face severe financial hardship back in Tuvalu and would not have anyone to care for them in their old age, they said. The couples daughter and her partner and the reverend at the couples church both wrote letters to the tribunal in support of the appeal. Both letters said Tuvalu was suffering from the consequences of climate change and the ongoing risk of natural disasters. Tuvalu, a scattered collection of atolls and islands, has a population of 12,000 and an average land elevation of just two metres above mean sea level. The water is rising at almost half a centimetre each year. In 2021, Tuvalu's foreign minister Simon Kofe made headlines after addressing the United Nations climate summit standing in a suit and tie in knee-deep seawater . "In Tuvalu, we are living the reality of climate change and sea-level rise ... the sea is rising around us all the time, he said. In a separate video, Kofe said his government was planning for a "worst-case scenario where we are forced to relocate or our lands are submerged. In 2015, a man seeking to be the world's first climate change refugee was sent back to Kiribati after being declined a place in New Zealand. A similar case in 2017, which saw a Tuvaluan family apply for refugee status due to the effects of climate change, was also declined. Similarly, the tribunal found Teaitala and Paitela did not have exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature and dismissed their appeals. Its decision acknowledged Tuvalu was especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, increased coastal erosion, seawater contamination and changes in weather patterns. However, while recognising the challenges that climate change presents to all those living in Tuvalu, the tribunal finds that it has not been demonstrated that the appellants would, on a return there, be unable to access the necessaries of life now or in the near future, the decision said. It has also not been demonstrated that they would be unable to resume living the same sort of life that they had there previously. However, the tribunal granted the couple six-month visitor visas to give them time to depart New Zealand, in recognition of Tuvalus ongoing border closures and a lack of flights .