Stateless and poor Melanesians in Fiji face costly land purchase | Pacific Beat

Stateless and poor Melanesians in Fiji face costly land purchase

Stateless and poor Melanesians in Fiji face costly land purchase

Updated 15 February 2012, 14:15 AEDT

The descendants of Solomon Islands migrants whose forefathers had settled on the Namara land near Suva for more than 100 years, have now been given the opportunity to buy plots of that land, but may find that difficult as most live below the poverty line.

Last month about 30 families were issued with eviction notices by the Housing Authority, which took ownership of the land from the Native Lands Trust Board.

Presenter Sam Seke

Speaker: Fiji Melanesian Community Development Association General Secretary Joe Sanega

SEKE: There are currently about 12, 000 descendants of people from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and PNG who were taken to Fiji during the blackbirding era from 1864. Many of the Melanesians were recruited by deceit, enticed on to ships with gifts and then locked up. A lifetime of gruelling work followed on cotton and sugar cane plantations owned by European planters in Fiji, even before the arrival of the indentured labours from India. Most of the workers were male, and after the recruitment ended some chose to remain in Fiji. They took up Fijian wives and settled down in areas around Suva. They may have adopted Fijian customs and the language, but these migrants are still not Fijians. They can't own land, and their hazy legal status has been an ongoing source of trouble. There are about 30 families living on the poverty line in the Tacirua squatter community .. they've been told to leave, or pay an estimated 13-thousand Australian dollars to buy plots on the land they're living on. The group is represented by the Fiji Melanesian Community Development Association. General Secretary Joe Sanega, says the Melanesian squatters have little choice in the matter.

SANEGA: Well beggars cannot be choosers, because most of us are landless in Fiji. What we are trying to do is negotiate with the Government of the day if they can assist the community to purchase the land. And most of the members of these committees are unemployed, because we cannot be counted as one of the Matagali, so we are not entitled for that piece of land.

SEKE: Mr Sanega says the squatters will in the meantime be re-located elsewhere, but he insists they are not being evicted.

SANEGA: No, notice has been served to these communities for them to be relocated to other side, then they will develop the area, because they have been squatting there for past 100 years or so. The first chance or the first preference will be given to this community, to this 30 plus households to purchase the lot from the Housing Authority. This is the first stage of the first area, probably in the next two or three times the other area too will be developed.

SEKE: At about $13,000 per lot, Mr Sanega says the squatters will need Government assistance to help them buy the land. Many are poor, and as a result uneducated and working in similar sorts of jobs as their ancestors a century ago.

SANEGA: Well so far, people it's either they are casual workers or still workers in the cane fields or seasonal workers. You see when you talk about employment, most of us live below poverty line, that's why we are not access to education and plus we would not be able to get the employment.

SEKE: There are another 30 squatter settlements scattered around Fiji and they will be watching what happens to the people at Tacirua, knowing that their turn is coming.

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