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Relocation causes loss which cannot be replaced

Lice Movono In Bonn, Germany
Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE full cost of forced relocation causes loss which cannot be replaced by money and so moving as a result of the impacts of climate change is an injustice itself.

A discussion organised by Brot für die Welt: Bread for the World on forced migration in the Pacific held at the Talanoa Pavillion in Bonn, Germany, heard that communities who have moved feel it is unfair that they pay for the impacts of climate change.

Faith-based organisations working with climate migrant communities in Tuvalu and Fiji said climate change was taking everything from them.

Frances Namoumou from the Pacific Conference of Churches who works with relocated villages in Fiji, said relocation denoted a smooth transition which was not as accurate as the words "forced migration".

"For us in Fiji, the vanua (land) is an extension of us as human beings to our land and the ocean. That inter-connectedness indigenous spirituality that governs us in our social structure," she said.

Ms Namoumou gave her experience of working with the village of Vunidogoloa in Cakaudrove, which Bread for the World said was quite possibly the first community to be relocated away from climate change impacts.

Brot für die Welt funds the work of several civil society community works in Fiji.

"This was a coastal community and most of their livelihoods was based on the marine ecosystem. Having to relocate to a high elevated area inland a mile away from their old site means a change in their social structure but also their livelihoods. They had to change from being coastal people to adapt to a new system and that is about food security," Ms Namoumou said.

"In terms of losing that identity of coastal people, in our context as indigenous people, we come with traditional skills and knowledge that is passed down generations. For the next couple of years, they will lose that knowledge and that connection to the land that they had lived in for years.

"You can't put a value to it. You can put a value to the assets they had lost but in terms of intangible assets, you cannot put a value to it."

The PCC said the Vunidogoloa community was working on documenting their traditional skills and knowledge as coastal people, including fishing and the ability to read the weather for example in an effort to retain tangible assets.

Reverend Tafue Lusama of the Church of Tuvalu said this was a climate justice issue because Pacific communities do not want to move but have to because of actions beyond their control.

He described the climate migration as forcing islanders towards a market-based lifestyle which was unhealthy.

"When we talk about relocation because of the impacts of climate change, this is not an option for us. Firstly because when we talk about relocation, we are talking about moving a people out of a country into a new country. You cannot build a Tuvalu in the middle of Fiji and Australia," he said.

Mr Lusama said Pacific people who moved to Australia as a result of climate change would assimilate completely, lose their island lifestyles and become fourth or fifth class citizens of the country.

"In a couple of generations time, the language would die out, their way of life will die. The skills that are tied to the identity as an indigenous people would disappear," he said.

"When we are talking about relocation, we are actively talking about the death of a people."

Mr Lusama said he would prefer to fight for international recognition for the need to save Tuvalu.

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