UN human rights ruling could boost climate change asylum claims
A 16-year-old child swims in the flooded area of Aberao village in Kiribati. The Pacific island is one of the countries worst affected by sea-level rise.
21 January 2020
The UN Human Rights Committee has determined that countries cannot deport people who have sought asylum due to climate-related threats.
The historic ruling marks the first decision by a UN human rights treaty body based on a complaint filed by an individual seeking protection from the effects of climate change.
Ioane Teitota from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati lodged the complaint in 2015 after being deported from New Zealand when his asylum application was denied.
Mr. Teitota argued that his right to life had been violated, as rising sea levels and other destructive effects of climate change had made his homeland uninhabitable.
He said he was forced to migrate from the island of Tarawa, to New Zealand, due to impacts such as a lack of freshwater due to saltwater intrusion, erosion of arable land, and associated violent land disputes which had resulted in numerous fatalities.
‘New standards’ established
While the UN Committee determined that Mr. Teitota’s right to life had not been violated as sufficient protection measures had been implemented in Kiribati, member Yuval Shany said: “Nevertheless, this ruling sets forth new standards that could facilitate the success of future climate change-related asylum claims.”
The Committee further clarified that people seeking asylum are not required to prove that they would face immediate harm, if deported back to their home countries.
Their rationale was that because climate-related events can occur both suddenly – such as intense storms or flooding – or over time through slow-onset processes such as sea level rise and land degradation, either situation could spur people to seek safety elsewhere.
Additionally, Committee members underlined that the international community must assist countries adversely affected by climate change.
U.S. to impose visa restrictions for pregnant women
The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship.
JAN. 23, 202001:29
Jan. 22, 2020, 3:06 PM PST
By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is coming out with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport.
The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The rules would make it more difficult for pregnant women to travel on tourist visas. In one draft of the regulations, they would have to clear an additional hurdle before obtaining the visas — convincing a consular officer that they have another legitimate reason to come to the U.S.
The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. He has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it’s not so easy to do.
DEC. 5, 201904:33
Regulating tourist visas for pregnant women is one way to get at the issue, but it raises questions about how officers would determine whether a woman is pregnant to begin with, and whether a woman could get turned away by border officers who suspect she may be just by looking at her.
Consular officers right now aren’t told to ask during visa interviews whether a woman is pregnant or intends to become so. But they would have to determine whether a visa applicant would be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth.
Birth tourism is a lucrative business in both the U.S. and abroad. American companies take out advertisements and charge up to $80,000 to facilitate the practice, offering hotel rooms and medical care. Many of the women travel from Russia and China to give birth in the U.S. The U.S. has been cracking down on the practice since before Trump took office.
agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion, coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals.
There are no figures on how many foreign women travel to the U.S. specifically to give birth. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for stricter immigration laws, estimated that in 2012, about 36,000 foreign-born women gave birth in the U.S., then left the country.
The draft rule is “intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” a State Department spokesperson said.
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