New Zealand considers visa for climate ‘refugees’ from Pacific islands

Delegates walk past a poster showing a man holding a turtle and other photos from the Pacific Islands during the COP23 UN Climate Change Conference 2017, hosted by Fiji but held in Bonn, Germany, in this November 10, 2017 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 November 2017
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New Zealand considers visa for climate ‘refugees’ from Pacific islands

LONDON: New Zealand is proposing a special refugee visa for Pacific Islanders who are forced to migrate because of rising sea levels, the nation’s new climate change minister said, as world leaders wrap up United Nations climate talks in Germany.
In the low-lying and vulnerable Pacific islands, the number of people moving within their own nations to flee worsening storms, sea level rise and other climate-related crises is still relatively small.
But countries like New Zealand are making plans now before climate migration grows into a regional emergency.
“We want to get ahead of this before it turns into a real problem ... we want to start a dialogue with the Pacific Island countries about this notion of migrating with dignity, if things get to that point,” said climate minister James Shaw, leader of New Zealand’s Green Party.
“One of the options is a special humanitarian visa to allow people who are forced to migrate because of climate change,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from the UN climate talks in Bonn, which were hosted by Fiji.
In 2014, a New Zealand judge granted residency to a family from Tuvalu, in part on humanitarian grounds related to climate change.
“The reason why we were throwing around an idea of a visa is because people who have been displaced by environmental conditions like rising seas and climate change aren’t counted under the UN Convention on Refugees,” said Shaw.
The 1951 UN Refugee Convention grants refugee status to those fleeing persecution, wars, and conflicts, but does not include climate change as a reason to seek asylum.
Neighbouring Australia said it would invest 300 million Australian dollars ($226 million) over four years to help Pacific Islands cope with climate change, but was not planning to implement a similar climate migration scheme.
“The best response, where feasible, is effective adaptation and internal relocation, rather than cross-border resettlement as a first response,” a government spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
Shaw agreed that the main priority was to keep Pacific Islanders in their own communities, which means slashing carbon emissions to prevent rising sea levels.
The Paris climate agreement set a goal of ending the fossil fuel era this century and to limit warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5C.
New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made tackling climate change one of her top priorities and committed last month to erase the nation’s carbon footprint by 2050.
Shaw said he hopes to have formal talks with Pacific islands early next year to discuss the idea of issuing humanitarian visas for climate migration. ($1 = 1.3256 Australian dollars)


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 53 min 26 sec ago
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.