Kiribati is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, having both – the equator and the international date line crossing the country. It comprises of 33 small atoll islands with a total land area of 800 square kilometres but this land is scattered over a total of 3.5 million square kilometres of ocean. It is therefore very rich in marine resources and it is host to one of the healthiest and most abundant tuna resources in the world.
As a country we derive most of our revenue from the licensing of the foreign fishing boats which operate in our waters. Naturally, the ocean is very much a part of traditional life of the people of Kiribati.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND MIGRATION
Climate change poses the greatest challenge to humanity whether we accept it, acknowledge it but even if we deny it.
It is indeed a real challenge, especially for the most vulnerable countries. In the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean we have a number of countries that face the real possibility of being submerged under the rising seas in the future.
So these countries have to either build resilience or provide migration options to their citizens. In Kiribati during my presidency, I advocated a policy of either resilience and/or relocation.
However, if our people were to migrate, they were to do so with dignity. In that context I’ve been advocating a concept of MIGRATION WITH DIGNITY.
With the potential loss of sovereignty due to potential loss of the physical presence of these countries, the question arises as to what options do they face. Will they just disappear or could they consider digital options of sovereignty – countries that exist not in the physical terms but in virtual terms?
Of course there continues to be a debate amongst different groups of people as to whether climate change is real or whether it is simply speculative.
For my family it is very real. The seas are rising and weather patterns are changing. The beginning of 2019 was marked with working on the seawalls in many households and people are still afraid this may not be enough because they’ve seen water coming to their hoses, damaging their wells.
It is about different countries, so far seemingly removed from the problem, to see and understand the signals that we are experiencing. We, but also for example the United States with raging bush fires and in Europe with the extreme weather conditions. It is about respecting and believing the international reports on climate change that are becoming stronger in warnings.
Those are realities we have to take into consideration because we as humanity can not ignore them.
I can not ignore them because every minute, I have to think about the future generations – my wonderful grandchildren. This is the world that they will have to face and it very much depends on the preparations that our generation will provide for their future.
MIGRATION WITH DIGNITY
The notion of leaving ones home is not an attractive one. I understand that. There are emotional barriers and nobody wants to accept and acknowledge the possibility that at some point in time we may have to leave our homeland simply because it will no longer exist.
The questions will be: How do we do it? How do we migrate from one country to another? Do we take the entire population to one place? Do we disperse to different parts of the world?
Quite frankly I do not know what the answer to those questions will be but whatever it is we have to acknowledge that relocation will eventually be necessary.
I had been advocating a policy of Migration with Dignity. It is a rejection of the notion that people have to migrate as climate refugees. It is a rejection of the status of a refugee.
Migration with dignity would be an proactive response so that even when people eventually have to migrate, they will do so as highly educated, highly skilled individuals with capability and will to integrate and form active parts contributing to the societies they will be moving to.
They will not only be able to find jobs but also with an ability to integrate into the new society culturally.
How to do it? Through win-win partnerships: The designated receiving countries will beforehand provide training and educational paths for individuals, according to the needs of the specific economies. The migrants will be coming with in-demand skills proving the idea beneficial to both communities.
I believe such approach is very important to make the necessity of leaving ones own place as smooth as possible as well as the beautiful gift of receiving people in need also beneficial.