Who are you if you lose your island?

Sue Farran

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While there is talk of ‘climate change refugees’ there is rather less clarity about the legal status of those whose homelands disappear under the waves. Unlike persons displaced by war or political upheaval, as experienced after the Second World War, such persons do not fall within the usual understandings of ‘refugee’. The erosion of the foundations of their identity has, in some cases, been gradual and incremental, but without territory can we talk of sovereignty or citizenship? Is the latter place bound or does citizenship mean more than just affiliation to a particular place? Does nationality depend on a nation and if so what is it that makes a nation? These questions are pertinent to those whose homelands may disappear as a result of natural disasters or rising sea levels. They are particularly, but not only, relevant to people in the Pacific living on low lying atolls such as in Tuvalu, Kiribati and parts of the Solomon Islands. In the Pacific, exchanges among strangers start with the question ‘where are you from?’ Can a person be a Pacific islander if he or she has no island? This paper considers how that will be answered by those who are from lands under the seas, and what changes may have to be made to the legal frameworks that determine identity in these circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2018
EventCommission on Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law: Legal Status and Identity Panel - University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada
Duration: 22 Aug 201824 Aug 2018


ConferenceCommission on Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law


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