TUVALUANS SEEK REFUGE IN FIJI ISLANDS AND NEW ZEALAND
SUVA, Fiji Islands (Feb. 23, 2000 - The Fiji Times/PINA Nius Online)---Tuvalu islanders will seek refuge in Fiji and New Zealand as the threat of losing their homes increases.
Scientists project that the group of atolls will disappear beneath the sea as part of the environmental changes attributed to the Greenhouse Effect.
The Agence France-Presse news agency quoted Tuvalu Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana as saying Fiji was relaxing its policy and bending its laws to allow Tuvalu islanders to take refuge and become permanent residents here.
Mr. Ionatana is reported to have told Radio New Zealand that some of his 11,000 people wanted to leave in the face of a rising sea level and wanted access to New Zealand, Australia and Fiji.
"Tuvaluans are seeking a place that they can permanently migrate to, should the high tides eventually make our home uninhabitable. Other island peoples have agreements to stay permanently in New Zealand. Tuvalu is, of course, a Pacific nation, and the present arrangement is not satisfactory.
"Fiji is relaxing its policy, bending its law, to allow for Tuvaluans to stay permanently with relatives. I am expecting New Zealand to do a lot more than what Fiji can do because Australia has not been forthcoming."
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Tupeni Baba last night was unaware of the move to relax immigration policy.
Dr. Baba said a group of scientists from Monash University in Australia had said that it would take another 20 years to determine whether rising sea levels posed a threat to Pacific islands.
Meanwhile, Fiji's Daily Post carried a news agency report from Wellington saying Tuvalu Prime Minister Ionatana felt "slighted" that New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and other senior ministers refused to meet him to discuss the future of his country.
Clark told the New Zealand Press Association she had not met Ionatana so far because he had stayed in Auckland instead of coming to Wellington where official meetings are held.
She said she was trying to set up a meeting yesterday. "I have asked officials to see if he can come down today, but he has been sitting in Auckland," she said.
Ionatana told National Radio he would try to meet Clark during the Pacific Islands Forum later this year.
"Tuvaluans are seeking a place they can permanently migrate to should the high tides eventually makes our homes uninhabitable," he said.
Unusually high tides lapped at the doors of seaside homes and blocked some roads in Tuvalu during the weekend, the Daily Post reported.