U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 June 2000|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Solomon Islands , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c754.html [accessed 8 October 2015]|
An estimated 32,000 persons were internally displaced on the Solomon Islands at the end of 1999, and an unknown number of persons from the Solomon Islands were refugees in Papua New Guinea. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not aware of any refugees from the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville who remained in the Solomon Islands at the end of the year.
During World War II, the United States brought laborers from Malaita, the most populous island in the Solomons chain, to work on the island of Guadalcanal, the political center of the Solomons. Both the Malaitans and the indigenous population (known as Guali) are ethnic Melanesians, but they share neither culture nor language. The Malaitan transmigrants came to dominate Guadalcanal's economic and political life, which the Guali resented. In late 1998 the resentment erupted into inter-ethnic conflict.
Although their ideology was somewhat unclear, the Guali formed a rebel insurgency believed to number about 5,000 demanding sweeping autonomy within the Solomons, and an end to new migration.
In 1999, the rebels concentrated on emptying villages of Malaitans. The attackers reportedly burned hundreds of homes. By June, an estimated 10,000 Malaitans had been driven from their homes and were converging on Honiara, the Solomons capital, whose population was mostly Malaitan. According to the local Red Cross, police evacuated large numbers of Malaitans, following militant threats.
The Red Cross said it had insufficient resources to feed and shelter the displaced. Some sought shelter with family or friends, while others were housed in a civic hall and on a college campus. Many reportedly slept on the streets.
The national government declared a state of emergency in the capital and requested humanitarian assistance a request heeded by New Zealand, Britain, and other nations. A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assessed the situation in Honiara and coordinated relief efforts. While most Malaitans remained on Guadalcanal, thousands returned to Malaita, straining resources there. Press reports said at least 400 fled the Solomon Islands for nearby Papua New Guinea, although this number could not be confirmed.
In mid-June, the Commonwealth secretary general appointed a special envoy to negotiate peace talks on Guadalcanal. A UN humanitarian official called the conflict a "major crisis" and said it would support the mediation effort.
The two sides reached a peace agreement in late June. They later signed an accord that provided for a cease-fire and a handover of weapons by the rebels. In return, the government agreed to address certain demands of the rebels, including the removal of all Malaitans from Guadalcanal. Thousands of Malaitans subsequently returned to Malaita, where they were assisted by the ICRC.
The accord also divided Guadalcanal into zones that only the ICRC could cross in order to assist the displaced.
A subsequent agreement lifted the state of emergency and restricted police activities on Guadalcanal. Some Guali said they were victimized by the police because of the prevalence of Malaitans on the force.
An international peace monitoring force began operating in Guadalcanal in October. Although the general cease-fire appeared to hold, both Guali and Malaitan elements continued sporadic violent acts.
By the end of the year, the conflict had forced an estimated 32,000 persons on Guadalcanal, including some Guali, to leave their homes and villages. Reintegration was an ongoing challenge, both on Guadalcanal and Malaita.