The world’s first climate refugees are getting ready to leave the island nation of Kiribati. Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, announced today that he’s in talks with the government of Fiji and looking to buy up to 5,000 acres of land for the people of Kiribati to settle.
The nation is home to 113,000 people, most of whom live and work on the Tarawa chain of islets. The nation consists of 32 coral atolls and one coral island straddling the equator, only 313 square miles in all, none of which are more than a few feet above sea level. Some of these atolls are already beginning to sink beneath the rising waves.
Mr. Tong told the Telegraph, “This is the last resort, there’s no way out of this one. Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages.”
Right now, the government is trying to send only skilled workers to Fiji. Hopefully, this will allow them to assimilate as productive members of society, reducing resentment or discrimination from the locals. His administration has launched an “Education for Migration”¯ program, aimed at teaching the population job skills to make them more attractive immigrants to other nations like Fiji.
Mr. Tong explained his plan on the state-run Fiji One television channel as such:
“We don’t want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go,” he told the state-run Fiji One television channel.
“They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.
“What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati.”
Many of the islanders are concerned that their unique culture will be lost when the population moves. It’s not clear exactly what will happen when the population of an entire nation is forced to migrate. What we do know is this: this will not be the last time an island nation is forced to make difficult decisions in order to cope with climate change.
Legal scholars have yet to determine what the ramifications of such a move would be — will the evacuated islanders still be citizens of their former nation? Do they still control the waters surrounding the submerged land? No one really knows.
Photo credit: KevGuy4101