Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Ambassador Nazhaat Shameem Khan made a statement to the International Organisation for Migration at its 105th Session today.
She spoke on the impact of climate change on migration in Fiji, and told the meeting of the displaced villages in Fiji which had to be re-located to higher ground as a result of rising sea level. Describing the impact of such movement on the people of Fiji she said;
”The relocation has more than financial consequences for our people. Climate change and the loss of villages have also resulted in an emotional dislocation of our people from the land of their ancestors. In Fiji, the connection between land and people is a spiritual and emotional one, which cannot be measured by money alone. Land ownership by the iTaukei, or indigenous people, is considered to be a sacred trust. Land cannot be alienated by sale or transfer according to law. Yet climate change has had the effect of alienating the people of some of our coastal settlements from their land.”
She said that other Pacific Island states had been affected by rising sea levels, and drew the attention of the IOM that Kiribati has recently acquired large tracts of land in Vanua Levu in preparation for the need for arable land, and in a likely sad eventuality, the sad exodus of the people of Kiribati from the land of their birth and their ancestors.
The Ambassador pointed out that steps are being taken by the Fijian Government to address the migration of skilled labour such as commercial or entrepreneurship opportunities. She added that modernising Fijian laws as well as labour processes would position Fijians to access suitable employment based on merit alone.
She added that the only substantive way to retain such labour, was to ensure equality, reward of merit and of performance regardless of ethnicity, gender and religion, and to implement social and economic rights. Such rights included the right to water, housing, a clean environment, good health care and the right to accessible transportation.
The Director-General of the IOM congratulated Fiji on the opening of the Mission in Geneva, on providing regional leadership especially on climate change issues, and on the assistance Fiji has provided Kiribati. He said that he looked forward to closer partnerships with Fiji, with the opening of an IOM Office in 2015, in Suva.