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Lessons from Kiribati

  • Published at 07:36 pm June 27th, 2018
  • Last updated at 12:07 am June 29th, 2018
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Jotie Gatfield

Migration with Dignity

How do you begin to tackle the idea that your country will disappear under water in the next few decades? A low-lying island nation, Kiribati, is attempting to answer this very question. One of many islands in the Pacific ocean at risk of sea-level rise caused by climate change,   the government has emerged with a progressive and well-informed national level migration policy.

Kiribati’s “Migration with Dignity” policy is a long-term, relocation strategy that allows people to migrate by addressing the needs and opportunities of the climate migrants beforehand, focussing at both the household and individual level. 

The first part of the policy is addressing immediate needs of Kiribati in trying to reduce the mass urbanisation taking place on the larger islands of the country. By supporting those in a position to move now or in the near future to nearby countries such as Fiji or New Zealand, the policy aims to develop support systems within these new communities. 

The development of such support systems allows time for more migrants to later join already settled communities. It will also increase remittances to Kiribati, which in turn will allow more families the chance to relocate in the future. 

“The spirit of the people of Kiribati will not be extinguished,” stated the government of Fiji in 2014: “It will live on somewhere else because a nation isn’t only a physical place. A nation – and the sense of belonging that comes with it – exists in the hearts and the minds of its citizens wherever they may be.”

The secondary piece of policy is to increase the educational and vocational opportunities within Kiribati, through government funded education programmes. The idea behind this is so that when climate migrants move to receiving countries, they can enter the job market with paralleled training or qualifications to that of the receiving nations. Allowing individuals the opportunities to migrate ‘with dignity’ and further develop pre-existing ‘cross-border’ labour arrangements. 

There is also recognition that some people, especially those of older generations will decide to stay and watch as their homes disappear, meaning that there is still a need for development within the country. That the process of migration will take time and migration should not come at the expense of development. 

The forward thinking of the Government of Kiribati is allowing for well planned migration. Progressive policy is one of the ways in which governments are able to assist in migration with dignity, giving people the opportunity to move in a comfortable well planned manner. Managing migration can play a huge role in the success of the lives of migrants in their new homes. 

Laura Bahlman is a visiting researcher at ICCCAD, and completing her Masters in International Development, Massey University, New Zealand.