Environmental migration not new for Tokelau

Media release 12 October 2015

During last weekend, the first high-level dialogue on climate induced migration was held in Kiribati, under the auspices of the Prince of Monaco Fund. Tokelau made its presence felt, by delivering the following speech from the heart:

“Environmental migration is not a new concept for Tokelau. In the mid-1960s the Government of New Zealand was concerned that our population of 1,900 was too high for the assumed carrying-capacity of the islands while migration increased after a tropical cyclone in 1966. That year, the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme was initiated and when suspended in 1976, 528 people had been resettled. Since then, emigration to New Zealand has decreased and the population maintained at 1,400.

“Our status as a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand, we acknowledge, gives us this opportunity to relocate. Yet despite this open-door policy, our islanders would rather fight and adapt, than migrate. Our people want to maintain their identity and dignity, way of life, familial land rights and traditions that are unique, and one day claim our islands sovereignty, as mandated by the United Nations Commission on Decolonization.

“So the questions related to forced migration because of climate change and rising sea levels are also critical to Tokelau: we need commitment from the international community, we need plans in place for nations in the frontline, we need protection for our displaced people, we want to retain sovereignty and our Exclusive Economic Zone.
Tokelau delegation members Francois Martel and Paula Faiva flanking Prince Albert II of Monaco, sponsor of the climate-induced migration conference in Kiribati, 9-11 October 2105.

“What conventions can be put in place to protect us? Tokelau stands in full support to the concept of “migration with dignity” advocated by sovereign atoll nations. We trust the international community will recognize it as an essential planning instrument of a legally-binding climate deal to be negotiated in Paris this December.

“In our engagement leading to Paris, as part of the New Zealand delegation, we will advocate for a “climate change displacement coordination facility” to be inserted in the final agreement for COP21, so that appropriate planning of potential relocation is provided, as well as compensation, to our people fleeing rising sea levels, extreme weather and loss of livelihoods caused by industrialised nations over a century.”

And so Tokelau finally had its own a voice in an international forum. The Assistant UN Secretary General for the Asia Pacific came all the way from New York to attend this meeting. (*) NGOs such as Oxfam and GreenPeace provided good participation and input to the meeting.

The full Ulu of Tokelau speech is available also.
For further information contact:
Paula Faiva, Climate Change Unit 
Office of the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, Apia, Samoa
Email: paulafaiva@gmail.com, phone +685 775 8820

(*) We wish to apologise for having caused offence by including in the original media release, that SPREP, PIF and SPC had not participated in the meeting. We were not aware that these organisations had not been invited to attend; but in any case this negative phrase should not have slipped through our approval process of draft releases.