Pacific Media Watch

31 March 2016

REGION: NZ needs to lead action on Pacific climate 'migration with dignity'

Michael Timmins (left) and Dr David Robie on the Fifth Estate Pacific climate change discussion. Video: Slipstream Media/ Youtube

AUCKLAND (The Daily Blog/Asia Pacific Report/ Pacific Media Watch): Radio Waatea and The Daily Blog featured climate change in the Pacific on their daily live Fifth Estate programme.

Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury spoke to a panel, including Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board Councillor Efeso Collins, who spoke from Samoa and joined the conversation by phone.

Collins said unlike those living in New Zealand, people in the Pacific were dealing with the effects of climate change daily. 

"Climate change is a natural part of discussion among children here," Collins said. 

“It’s almost the same way kids in New Zealand talk about what school their going to, what are they going to get up to for a the rest of the day, climate change is apart of normal everyday conversation for children in the Pacific.”

Collins emphasised Australia and New Zealand need to respond to the ensuing fact that both countries will be dealing with climate change migrants very soon.

'Individualistic societies'
He said individualistic societies like New Zealand have to stop looking at those affected by climate change with a “Western lens”. 

"The West don’t see this [Pacific climate change] as our people and because we don’t see ourselves as part of this global community, we think, 'Well it’s their problem they’ll just have sink or swim quite literally. 

"We see the same attitude towards benefits and people on welfare… and now we are seeing the same attitude towards people in the Pacific and refugees suffering in the world.”

Labour spokesman on Pacific affairs Sua William Sio, who was stranded in Kiribati on a climate change mission also spoke to the panel via Skype. 

Sua spoke about the “fighting spirit” of Pacific islanders trying to sustain life in the face of the reality of climate change and called for a better United Nations framework for Pacific people impacted on by the dramatic changes as a result of global warming.

"They don’t like being called climate refugees, it's more so “migration with dignity'," Sio said. 

Many of the speakers talked about New Zealand needing to accept Pacific climate change migrants, the revision of humanitarian policies and the issue of sovereignty when migrants relocate. 

Biggest tension
International Refugee Lawyer, Michael Timmins, said the biggest tension is that there’s a gap in legal protection from people fleeing from climate change displacement. 

“Under the strict interpretation of the Refugee Convention, if you’re leaving because of climate change displacement you don’t meet that definition.”

“The reality is that the 1951 [Refugee] Convention is one of the greatest human rights instruments of all time. It’s protected millions of people in its 60 years. What we need to do is, deal pragmatically with that gap, and fill it and that’s where New Zealand is not showing leadership right now.

“We need to be engaging and listening to countries in the Pacific, and listen to people in the Pacific, and let them tell us what should happen.”

Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre, criticised the lack of support for regional climate change policies from New Zealand, saying the country needed to take on far greater responsibility for its neighbours.

He said an irony was that China could fill the breach left by Australia and New Zealand.

Featured in the programme were:

  • International refugee Michael Timmins, a lawyer who has worked internationally with NGOs and the UN refugee agency UNHCR

  • Professor David Robie, director of AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre

  • On the phone from Samoa: Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board Councillor Efeso Collins

  • And on Skype live from Kiribati as part of his fact-finding mission in the Pacific: Labour Party Spokesperson on Pacific Affairs and Pacific Climate Change Sua William Sio.


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