U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Fiji
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||20 June 2001|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Fiji , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e162c.html [accessed 4 December 2016]|
At the end of 2000, about 400 persons were known to be internally displaced in Fiji. The actual number of displaced may have been much higher. No refugees or asylum seekers from other countries were known to be in Fiji during the year.
The island of Fiji is comprised of 51 percent indigenous Fijians and 42 percent Indo-Fijians – descendents of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent who were brought to Fiji as indentured laborers for the country's sugar plantations. The indigenous Fijians have traditionally occupied positions in the public sector, while the ethnic Indians have more or less dominated business and commerce.
Antipathies between the two groups have occasionally led to violence. In 1996, 30-year leases for more than 15,000 Indo-Fijian sugar cane farmers began expiring, and many indigenous Fijian landowners refused to renew them. In 2000, these tensions erupted into political turmoil.
On May 19, Fiji's democratically elected government, headed by Indo-Fijian prime minister Mahendra Chaudry, was overthrown by indigenous Fijian leader George Speight and his supporters (including some members of the military). Chaudry and several other members of Parliament were held hostage. Ten days later, President Ratu Mara was also ousted from office.
Fijian military commander Frank Bainimarama appointed himself head of state, abrogated the 1997 multi-ethnic constitution that enabled Chaudry to be elected Fiji's first ethnic Indian prime minister in 1999, and declared martial law.
Immediately following the coup, ethnic Fijians initiated a campaign of violence against Indo-Fijians. Reported abuses included beatings, looting, and the destruction of land and homes. Most of the ethnic violence occurred in the Muaniveni and Balevu areas in Naitasiri Province.
In mid-June, Fiji's first camp for displaced Indo-Fijians was established. Reports said that more than 70 people who were displaced from an area around Speight's hometown near Suva, the capital, had been relocated to the other side of the main island of Viti Levu.
The displaced said indigenous Fijians forced them out of their homes following attacks. Some of the displaced persons reported that they were forced to flee into the surrounding jungle and said that the police were no help. Fiji's Human Rights Group helped evacuate the displaced, bringing them to a school ground in the town of Lautoka, on Viti Levu.
By late June, more than 300 Fijians were displaced. After the school could no longer be used to shelter them, they began living under trees or in tin shacks.
Numerous ethnic Indian Fijians attempted to seek asylum or emigrate to Australia, New Zealand, or other countries. Australia's immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, said that there had also been an increase in the number of Fijians in Australia applying for refugee status. Those asylum claims, Ruddock said, were unlikely to succeed.
In July, the hostage crisis ended after nearly two months of negotiations, and a military-backed civilian interim administration assumed control of the state. Later that month, the interim administration arrested Speight and other leaders of the coup, charged them with treason, and began to assert control over the country.
The violence and displacement were not over, however. In August, the director of Fiji's Human Rights Commission said more people were being displaced from their homes as new disturbances were reported around the country. She estimated that there were more than 1,000 displaced persons in and around Suva and that more had lost their homes on the island of Vanua Levu in the north.
A Fijian military spokesperson said the military wanted the displaced to return to their homes, move on with their lives, and leave behind the incidents of May 19. The interim government agreed, saying it wanted to put a stop to the establishment of unnecessary displaced persons camps. The home affairs minister said the camps could be ordered removed if they were proven to be illegal. "It depends on the motives behind the setting up of the camps," he said. He added that some families had already returned home.
In an effort to help resolve the problem, the president of Fiji's Methodist Church said some 500 families who were members would be resettled on 18 acres of land in Namosau. He said the move was part of an effort toward multi-racialism.
In October, Fiji's government said it would allocate funds to provide basic relief assistance to displaced Fijians. The assistance, which included basic food rations, would be provided for three months and, if the budget permitted, would be extended for another three months. Rights groups said the funding allocated was not enough.
Later that month, the National Farmers Union (NFU) said it had begun setting up "colonies" for displaced farmers in the northern sugar cane belt of Labasa, on the island of Vanua Levu. An NFU spokesperson predicted that more colonies would be formed if racially motivated land evictions gained momentum in the next few months.
At the end of the year, more than 400 displaced persons remained in the camps in Lautoka and Labasa. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Fiji Red Cross had visited the camps and provided assistance. An unknown number of Fijians – perhaps thousands – may have been displaced elsewhere in the country.