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New Zealand accepts climate change refugees from Tuvalu

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, August 12, 2014, 6:07 PM - A Tuvalu family has been granted refugee status by New Zealand after claiming they cannot return home due to climate change.

According to news agency UPI, this is the first time refugees have blamed climate change on their displacement.

Situated just two metres above sea level, Tuvalu is vulnerable to rising sea levels -- meaning many more families may be forced to flee the tiny nation in the years to come.

While environmental lawyers are watching the case closely and wondering about its broader implications, it doesn't appear that there will be an upswing in climate change refugees just yet.

RELATED: The connection between climate change and wildfires

Currently, rising sea levels are not considered a legitimate cause of displacement by the International Refugee Convention.

Experts suspect the family was granted special status because they had been living in New Zealand since 2007 and have close ties to the country.

Still, climate change migration expert François Gemenne told the Washington Post that "bilaterial or regional arrangements" may be necessary in the future to ensure the protection of people displaced by climate change.

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