Tuvalu News


By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (November 13, 2001 - Agence France-Presse/AFP)---Just four months after Australia refused to take migrants from Tuvalu Canberra is now trying to pressure the tiny Pacific nation into taking Middle Eastern asylum seekers, a government official confirmed Tuesday.

Tuvalu is one of the world’s smallest nations and fears it is seeking beneath a rising Pacific Ocean. The Polynesian nation has 11,000 people on just 26 square kilometer (10.4 square miles) of land over nine atolls -- 403 people per square kilometer. Australia, now shifting hundreds of boat people around the Pacific, has 2.4 people per square kilometer.

Fearing the effects of global warming, Tuvalu earlier this year asked New Zealand and Australia to allow more migrants in from Tuvalu. Wellington said yes.

In July Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said no.

"It is not, at the moment, an issue in which the population of those countries are at risk. They have to meet the normal migration criteria that apply to anybody in the world, who wants to come to Australia."

Tuvalu Secretary to Government Panapa Nelesone told AFP that they had received a verbal request to take asylum seekers.

"We have been asked but we have not received an official approach in writing," he said from the capital, Funafuti.

"When we receive it we will look at it and respond to it."

"We don’t have much space. We need space."

Asked if it was odd to get the request so soon after Australia’s refusal to take Tuvaluans, he replied "exactly."

"We ask them for space and now they’re sending us their own people," Nelesone said.

At no point is Funafuti, or any of its other atolls, more than 4.5 meters (15 feet) above mean sea level.

Canberra officials made the approach to Tuvalu through their Health Minister Amasone Kilei.

Australian photographer Peter Bennetts, whose book "Time and Tide" on Tuvalu was launched in Melbourne last week, revealed the request.

"This is abhorrent," he said, referring to the crisis that began in August with the Australian refusal to allow asylum seekers picked up by the ship Tampa into Australia. In what is now known as the "Pacific Solution," Canberra moved that initial crowd to Nauru and some onto New Zealand. Papua New Guinea is also taking asylum seekers and Australia has asked Palau and Fiji to take boat people.

Bennetts said it was ironic that Australia had rejected the Tuvaluans for help when atoll life becomes untenable.

"Shamefully, Australians are the highest per capita producers of green house gases," he said.

"The island nations of the South Pacific did not cause climate change but they will be the first to suffer from it."

Last month Pacific religious, social and non-government organizations said Australia’s "Pacific Solution" amounted to human trafficking.

"We collectively reiterate our stand in safeguarding Pacific Islands dignity and refuse to see the Pacific region continuously becoming a dumping ground for the benefit of industrialized nations," their joint statement said.

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