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Current Trends in South Pacific Migration - APMRN Working Paper 7
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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network
Working Paper No. 7

Current Trends in
South Pacific Migration

Edited by Vijay Naidu,
Ellie Vasta and Charles Hawksley

Published by the APMRN Secretariat
Migration and Multicultural Program
Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
University of Wollongong, Australia

ISSN 1328-2530
Copyright © 2001

Table of Contents


    Vijay Naidu and Ellie Vasta

    1. Pacific Communities in the Information Age
    Richard Bedford, Cluny Macpherson and Paul Spoonley

    2. Remittances, the Social System and Development in Samoa
    Tolu Muliaina

    3. Labour Migration from Tonga - of more benefit than harm?
    Fotukaehiko Valeli Fisi'iahi

    4. Contemporary Emigration from Fiji: some trends and issues in the post-independence era
    Manoranjan Mohanty

    5. Summary of Pacific Migration Workshop, Suva, November 1999
    Richard Bedford and Ellie Vasta

Contemporary Pacific Islander Migration: Developing a Research Network

Vijay Naidu and Ellie Vasta

This Working Paper comprises four articles and a documentary section that is a synopsis of the first Pacific Migration Research Network (PacMRN) meeting held at the Marine Studies Complex of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji between 25-26 November, 1999. Two of the articles are based on presentations at the meeting with the papers on Tonga and Fiji being received subsequently.

The Suva Meeting

The meeting was attended by Dr Malama Meleisea (PROAP/UNESCO, Bangkok), Professor Richard Bedford (NZMRN and University of Waikato), Dr Ellie Vasta (APMRN Secretariat, University of Wollongong), Dr Unasa Va'a (National University of Samoa), Dr Satendra Prasad (Fiji Public Service Commission and University of the South Pacific), Dr Kesaia Seniloli (Population Studies Programme, USP), Dr Manoranjan Mohanty (Centre for Development Studies, USP), Mr Tolu Muliaina (South Pacific Geosciences Commission) and Professor Vijay Naidu (Centre for Development Studies, USP).

The objectives of this gathering of scholars of international migration in the South Pacific region were threefold: first, to chalk out signposts for a more cohesive Pacific Migration Research Network by identifying problems and prospects for such a network; second, to take steps towards the establishment of a data base on Pacific Migration researchers; third, to provide a forum on contemporary migration research including potential areas of research. The summary of the meeting at the back of this volume provides details of the various subjects that were discussed but it is worth our while to highlight a few salient aspects of this deliberation.

The initiative of the APMRN Secretariat and UNESCO support made it possible for the researchers to hold the Suva meeting. There was enthusiastic support by those present to establish the Pacific Migration Research Network (PacMRN) although there was a sobering recognition of the vastness of the region to be covered and the rather small number of scholars involved in migration research. Unlike Asia, the Pacific region did not have a "critical mass" of migration researchers. It was agreed that immediate steps be taken to establish a data base on Pacific migration researchers. The group also agreed that with the Pacific Migration Researchers' data base operational, there would be much greater scope for researching and potential for both an increase in research efforts in general as well as collaborative research. Professors Bedford and Naidu, and Dr Ellie Vasta were given the responsibility of compiling information on Pacific Migration Researchers.

In order to stimulate research in Fiji and to strengthen links with the UNESCO national commission, Professor Richard Bedford, Dr Malama Meleisea and Vijay Naidu approached the UNESCO representative in Fiji so that a Participation Project (PP) on a migration research topic could be submitted to the Fiji National Commission, and forwarded by it to Paris. Such a PP project based on Dr Satendra Prasad's paper was subsequently submitted to the UNESCO representatives.

Papers and Presentations

Participants at the meeting heard and discussed five presentations which covered such diverse topics as public sector reforms and migration of skilled personnel from the Cook Islands and Fiji; the displacement and relocation of Indo-Fijian farmers with the expiry of agricultural leases; the instability in the Solomon Islands which was giving rise to internal refugees; the use of remittances in Samoa and the future supply of remittances; an initiative of PROAP UNESCO led by Dr Malama Meleisea to develop trial materials on country/area specific migration curriculum; multiculturalism in Thailand, India and Fiji; and the Pacific Vision conference paper on Pacific meta societies in the information age.

Professor Richard Bedford briefly spoke of the impact on migration of retrenchment as a result of structural adjustment policies being applied to the public sector in the Cook Islands. Similar reforms were underway throughout the Pacific with implications for population mobility. Dr Satendra Prasad in his oral presentation identified the building of human capital as pivotal in the development of Pacific island societies. He pointed to the view that migration had been seen in the Pacific context as a positive social phenomenon as it reduced pressure on limited resources in the islands and contributed to revenue generation through remittances. However, in the Fijian case he expressed strong reservations about the scale and speed of emigration of skilled and professional people because it seriously undermined the ability of the state to provide satisfactory services and facilitate development. The exodus of nurses, doctors, engineers, teachers and managers in both public and private sectors meant that basic services including health care, public utilities such as water supply and education were unsatisfactory and in danger of collapse. He pointed to the increased presence of recruiters from abroad who were taking nurses from Fiji by the "plane load" as most worrying. With the enormous differences in employment conditions, especially emolument, Dr Prasad said that this trend was likely to continue to the detriment of the country. He said that systematic research was needed to provide information and analysis of the rate of emigration of skilled and professional personnel and how the labour market and society as a whole responded to this apparently negative trend.

In the discussions that followed the possibility of a research proposal on the migration of skilled labour from Fiji was raised as was the potential of considerable fruitful collaboration on such a topic between Fiji and Australasian scholars.

Professor Vijay Naidu and Dr Satendra Prasad presented an outline of a research proposal on another topical matter in Fiji. This related to the vexatious matter of the expiry of agricultural land leases and the plight of thousands of sugar cane farmers and their families left without livelihoods. As 18,000 of the 22,000 affected farmers were Indo-Fijians, with the Native Land Trust Board as the main landlord on behalf of indigenous land owning groups, an ethnic dimension further complicated this issue of expiring leases. Discussion on this topic ranged on alternative livelihood for displaced farmers, relocation, farmers' perceptions about their future, the future of Fiji's sugar industry and the prospects for international migration. The possibility of an emergency research project on this subject was also raised.

A lively discussion followed the presentation on the situation on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, which was led by Professor Naidu. Thousands of people lost their livelihoods with up to 900 Malaitan refugees in shelters in Honiara as the conflict between Guadalcanal people and the Solomon Islands state intensified and took the form of attacks against Malaitans and other "foreigners". Subsequent to the Suva meeting the situation in the Solomons further deteriorated with some 20,000 people being uprooted as the government was ousted in an illegal para-military coup d'état. An openly violent conflict ensued between the Guadalcanalise Isatabu Freedom fighters and the Malaitan Eagle Force to the detriment of the country. The Suva meeting agreed that the situation in the Solomon Islands could be researched under APMRN emergency research funds. Tarcicius Kabataulaka was identified as the possible leader of a team of researchers.

There was considerable interest in the paper presented by Tolu Muliaina on the use of remittances in Samoa and the future prospects of remittances to this Pacific Island country. Tolu had observed that much of the remittance income was frittered away in non-productivity and in ostentatious consumption. Giving to the church collection and for the upkeep of pastors was a significant demand on Samoan families. It was maintained that the faa'a Samoa or Samoan traditional ways of doing things and the values associated with it was portent. It was difficult for Samoans to utilize remittances in productive enterprise. However, Tolu also commented on the apparently less enthusiastic attitude towards remittance giving on the part of the New Zealand-born younger generation. The debate on this issue was intense and was inconclusive. It was recognized in this regard that a continued supply of new immigrants helped to reinforce commitments to family back in Samoa. It was also pointed out that female migration was encouraged these days as women tended to be more reliable in sending remittances regularly. The trend towards tightening of immigration rules and the preference for skilled and wealthy immigrants has put a squeeze on Pacific Island migration. This will have negative consequences for overseas employment prospects for younger islanders and also reduce the remittance income of families and national revenue of Pacific Island countries.

Crystal ball gazing about the future of international migration and the establishment of Pacific Island diasporas in metropolitan rim countries of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada was the subject of the paper by Professors Richard Bedford, Paul Spoonley and Clunie Macpherson, which was presented to the meeting by Professor Bedford. Entitled "Pacific Communities in the Information Age", this paper is included in this volume. Originally presented at the Pacific Vision Conference in Auckland it covers many facets of international migration from PICs, the transnationalization of Pacific family and kinship networks with the flow and exchange of people and other resources, the establishment of Pacific Island meta societies through the interconnectedness of the dispersed diasporas and the societies of origin, the transformation of and challenges to meta societies including the loss of language and cultural complexes and strategies to maintain social cohesiveness in the future and the great potential for using the cyber network in this regard. This is an encyclopedic paper which provides readers with a profound understanding of the complex nexus between international migration, community building in host societies and the challenges posed to migrant communities by the adaptation process. The prospects of return migration to the islands was raised in the paper as a consequence of policy change with respect to pension schemes.

Dr Mohanty's paper on contemporary emigration from Fiji included in this working paper was a direct outcome of the PacMRN meeting. Enthused by the discussions at the meeting, Dr Mohanty set about updating himself on post-independence emigration trends and issues in Fiji. He has identified several gaps in our understanding of Indo-Fijian emigration and has disaggregated gross numbers to identify the characteristics of the emigrants and migration trends. A significant issue in the understanding of international migration is the accuracy of the official statistics. Dr Mohanty echoes Professor Bedford's observation made a decade earlier that reliance on completed arrival and departure cards is not an adequate basis for the compilation of statistics on migration. Of particular interest, in this regard is Dr Mohanty's finding that migration figures for ethnic Fijians and other non-Indo-Fijian citizens are grossly underestimated. He identifies the negative consequences of military coups, political instability and the failure of Fijian governments to resolve land lease arrangements as efficacious push factors, particularly for professional and skilled personnel. It is likely that proportionate to their smaller numbers, a significant component of professional and artisan ethnic Fijians and non-Indo-Fijian citizens have emigrated.

An analysis of the costs and benefits of migration from Tonga is the subject of the paper by Fisi'iahi, received after the Suva meeting. In considering labour migration, he points to the rather small resource base of the Kingdom and the very limited prospects for employment. He echoes the dominant official view that the emigration of Tongans generally, and especially of qualified and skilled individuals, contributed positively to Tongan families and the state. A degree of ambivalence in this regard emerges with respect to the loss of medical doctors and health care givers. However, seen in the context of searching for better opportunities and survival strategies, the out-migration of Tongans is a necessity.


It is evident that the Suva meeting of the PacMRN was successful in initiating deliberations towards the establishment of a formal network of international migration scholars in the Pacific. Steps have already been taken to collect information to create a database on the scholars and their research. It is hoped that such a database will contribute to information sharing and collaborative work.

Another dimension of the Suva meeting pertinent for the development of future research activities was the identification of potential research topics. The expiry of agricultural leases in Fiji and the civil unrest in the Solomons were put forward as critical research topics. The accelerated migration of skilled personnel from Fiji in both the public and private sectors was another potential area of research. A PP project proposal was submitted to the Fiji UNESCO office on this topic. Professor Bedford was in the midst of organizing a conference/workshop on the environmental impact of international migration in the Polynesian island states in Apia. The meeting agreed that there were numerous areas of research with considerable scope for collaborative research in the Pacific.

The papers presented at the meeting together with two others received later provide a small sample of the diversity of migration research issues that can be studied in the Pacific Island countries themselves and in Pacific rim-countries as well as further afield. Such research can be most useful for policy formulation. It is hoped that this Working Paper is the first in a series that PacMRN will be able to encourage in the coming years with continued support from APMRN.

Finally, we would like to thank the Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN) and the Centre for Development Studies, University of the South Pacific, both of whom co-hosted the Suva workshop. We would also like to extend our thanks to the UNESCO-MOST Program and the UNESCO Apia office for their financial support. Our thanks also to Patrick Brownlee for his earlier work on this project; and University of the South Pacific staff, in particular Ms Reshmi Prasad, who assisted in the organising of the meeting. Our special thanks to Charles Hawksley for editing, formatting and helping in finalising this volume.

For more information, please contact:

    APMRN Secretariat
    Migration & Multicultural Studies
    Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
    University of Wollongong
    Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522
    Telephone: +61 (02) 42 213 780
    Fax: +61 (02) 42 286 313
    E-mail: apmrn@uow.edu.au
    On Internet: http://www.capstrans.edu.au/apmrn/

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