Fiji says bula to i-Kiribati

Michael Field

People of a central Pacific nation facing inundation from sea-level rise have been told they are welcome to move to Fiji.

"In a worst-case scenario and if all else fails, you will not be refugees," Fiji President Epeli Nailatikau told the 101,000 people of Kiribati.

"You will be able to migrate with dignity. The spirit of the people of Kiribati will not be extinguished."

New Zealand's judicial system last year refused to recognise citizens of Kiribati as climate refugees.

Kiribati's capital atoll of Tarawa, home to about 29,000 people, is already suffering impacts from rising sea levels, some of which may be the result of global warming. Critics also say the atoll is sinking due to overpopulation and local environmental destruction.

Nailatikau, who is on Tarawa, said Fiji would stand with Kiribati as it faced the crisis.

Kiribati would live on even if it sank because it was more than just a physical place.School's out

"A nation and the sense of belonging that comes with it exists in the hearts and minds of its citizens wherever they may be," he said.

"If the sea level continues to rise because the international community won't tackle global warming, some or all of the people of Kiribati may have to come and live in Fiji."

Fiji had already accepted the people of Banaba in Kiribati, he said.

Known as Ocean Island, Banaba was destroyed when New Zealand-led phosphate mining removed most of its soils to spread across dairy and sheep farms.

After World War II, under British colonial rule, Banaba's people were moved to Rabi in Fiji where about 5000 Banabans remain. About 300 people live on the edge of the Banaba ruins.

Nailatikau said Fiji would take in the people again. "[Banabans] now live in Fiji but have their own seat in the parliament ofKiribati. And if necessary, we will do it again."

Kiribati had bought 2400 hectares in Fiji to ensure food security and the country would not let them down.

"Only our size and topography our mountainous interiors prevent us from suffering the same fate," Nailatikau said.

Fiji's attitude is a marked contrast to New Zealand's.

Last year an i-Kiribati man, Ioane Teitiota, 37, was denied status as a refugee by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal. He appealed unsuccessfully to the High Court and is now heading to the Supreme Court.

Tribunal head Bruce Burson had said he accepted a "sad reality" that Kiribati and its people were facing environmental degradation and disaster.

However, Teitiota's claim under the Refugee Convention must fail because the effects of environmental degradation on his standard of living were, by his own admission, faced by the population generally, Burson said.

"The sad reality is that the environmental degradation caused by both slow and sudden-onset natural disasters is one which is faced by the Kiribati population generally."
New Zealand gave Kiribati $25 million in aid last year, the bulk of it going to the remote Kiritimati or Christmas Island which could be settled by people from Tarawa.

Fiji's offer to take the i-Kiribati is roughly equivalent on a per capita basis to New Zealand accepting 511,000 people the population of Luxembourg.

12 February 2014

 

 

 

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