About 1,000 displaced residents of the Bikinia Atoll have applied for relocation in the United States, due to rising sea level, and the Interior Department appears to be supportive of the move.
The U.S. government moved several hundred Bikini Islanders in 1946 to conduct atomic weapons testing. They arrived at one of the nearby Marshall islands, called Kili, in 1948, and a U.S. trust fund provided them with housing.
Now the Kili island residents "have been experiencing more frequent storms and King Tides resulting in salt water inundation and the destruction of crops," reported the U.S. Interior Department. "These developments have raised deep concerns about public health and safety."
The displaced residents, who are currently able to work and study in the United States without restrictions or visas, want to be able to use relocation funds outside of the Marshall Islands.
The Resettlement Trust Fund for the People of Bikini has a balance of nearly $70 million, but it's restricted from being spent outside of the Marshall Islands, USA Today reported.
"This is an appropriate course of action for the United States to take regarding the welfare and livelihood of the Bikinian people, given the deteriorating conditions on Kili and Ejit Islands in the Marshall Islands with crowding, diminishing resources, and increased frequency of flooding due to King Tides on their islands," said Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia'aina, in a statement.
The islanders aren't the first climate refugees. In 2014, a family in Tuvalu, a Polynesian island were granted refugee status by New Zealand. Rising tides polluted the islanders' drinking water with salt.