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Fiji president gives speech during state visit in Tarawa - We accepted that the Banabans were forced to leave Ocean Island

We accepted the Banaban people when they were forced to leave Ocean Island [Banaba] because of the pressure of phosphate mining there.

"These people now live in Fiji but have their own seat in the Parliament of Kiribati. And if necessary, we will do it again.


People Of Kiribati Welcome To Live In Fiji: Ratu Epeli
Fiji president gives speech during state visit in Tarawa

By Nemani Delaibatiki

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Sun, Feb. 12, 2014) – The people of Kiribati are welcome to live in Fiji if their islands are swamped by rising sea level, says President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau.

"I want to assure you all that Fiji will stand shoulder to shoulder with you as you face this crisis, as well as doing everything possible to try to avert it," he said.

Speaking at a dinner in Tarawa during his state visit to Kiribati, Ratu Epeli said: "In a worst case scenario and if all else fails, you will not be refugees. You will be able to migrate with dignity. The spirit of the people of Kiribati will not be extinguished.

"It will live on somewhere else because a nation isn’t only a physical place. A nation – and the sense of belonging that comes with it – exists in the hearts and minds of its citizens wherever they may be.

"If the sea level continues to rise because the international community won’t tackle global warming, some or all of the people of Kiribati may have to come and live in Fiji. Fiji will not turn its back on our neighbours in their hour of need. We accepted the Banaban people when they were forced to leave Ocean Island [Banaba] because of the pressure of phosphate mining there.

"These people now live in Fiji but have their own seat in the Parliament of Kiribati. And if necessary, we will do it again.

"You have already purchased 6000 acres of land on Fiji’s second biggest island, Vanua Levu, to ensure your food security as the sea encroaches on your arable land. What the future holds we cannot say.

"But I want to assure you that if all else fails, you have true friends in Fiji who will not let you down. Because only our size and topography – our mountainous interiors – prevent us from suffering the same fate.

"I also come with a message that we must all do more as Pacific islanders to take charge of our own affairs. We need a fundamental change in our psyche – in our mindset – and the way we see the world. We need to take ownership of our problems, to acknowledge our own roles and responsibilities instead of seeing them as someone else’s."

The President also praised their support for Fiji.

"Together, we face many of the same challenges. Together, we are working to meet those challenges. And I want to express my sincere thanks to you, President Tong, for your regional leadership and especially for your unwavering support for Fiji.

"Under your Government, our relationship has never been closer. You are a frequent and very welcome visitor to Fiji. You are a trusted friend and confidant. And where others of our neighbours have been less than reliable friends in recent years, Kiribati has been steadfast and constant."

Ratu Epeli also reiterated his reasons why he was visiting Kiribati.

"I have come to Kiribati as part of Fiji’s effort to bind us even closer together. But in my meetings, I will also be explaining the huge strides we have made and are making in Fiji to produce a nation that is fairer, more just and provides better opportunities for every Fijian. Before the end of September, we will hold the first genuinely democratic election in our history, of equal votes of equal value instead of the racial weighted formula employed in the past. We have a new Constitution that establishes a common and equal citizenry, guarantees a range of civil and political rights and provides ordinary Fijians with an unprecedented array of social and economic rights, such as the right to education, housing, and clean water.

"This year, we have achieved a wonderful breakthrough in being able to provide our young people with free primary and secondary school education and a tertiary loans scheme so that poverty is no longer a barrier to higher studies. Our national infrastructure – such as our roads and ports – is also being upgraded to encourage the investment and jobs on which the ultimate fortune of every Fijian depends."

He said Fiji already stood proud and tall in the world – having forged an independent foreign policy based on the fundamental premise of being friends to all and enemies to none.

"And we are sending our civilian volunteers, including teachers and health workers, into our Pacific neighbours to boost their capacity and improve the lives of their people," he said.

"We are especially keen to lead and assist our joint effort to persuade the rest of the world to finally take decisive action on climate change. It is simply not acceptable for the world to stand by and watch the Republic of Kiribati – a sovereign nation and member of the United Nations – sink slowly beneath the waves. Fiji is using every possible means at the United Nations and in its agencies to draw attention to your plight and the selfishness of the big carbon polluters in putting their interests before those of us in the Pacific. Our recent leadership of the biggest voting bloc at the United Nations – the G77 Plus China – gave us a unique opportunity to advance this cause. We sit on the main United Nations committee on climate change. And by recently taking the Chair of the Governing Board of the United Nations Development Program, we are also in a position to push our collective agenda forward. This matters not just to the people of Kiribati but every Pacific Islander."

Copyright © 2014 Fiji Sun. All Rights Reserved

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