Last Updated: Thursday, 30 July 2015, 14:54 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Palau : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Palau : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 31 July 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Palau (Belau) is the westernmost Pacific island state, just north of the Equator, consisting of a group of high islands where most of the population live, and largely depopulated outlying coral atolls. It is prone to cyclones.


Main languages: Palauan, Filipino, English

Main religions: Christianity (mainly Roman Catholicism)

Outer islanders, from the southern atolls, speak distinct languages and form something of a minority in the Palauan state. By 2000, the mainly Filipino foreign workforce had grown to around 5,000 and it has since stabilised at about 15 per cent of the total population.


After more than a decade of often acrimonious constitutional debate and many referenda, Palau finally implemented a Compact of Free Association with the USA in October 1994 and was the last UN trust territory to achieve independence. There was considerable friction over support for and opposition to a nuclear-free constitution, a factionalism and polarity which also reflected traditional divisions in Palauan society. Palau has developed strong links with Taiwan.


Government is more complex than anywhere else in the world with a dual national legislature, aSenate and a House of Delegates – the Obiil Era Kelulau (OEK) and sixteen state legislatures. Corruption has been a frequent component of governance. From the 1980s there was a substantial growth in Filipino migration, and, to a lesser extent, of the Japanese and Korean populations. Most found employment in the private sector, including fishing, tourism and construction. There has been some resentment at the increase in Asian population numbers despite considerable Palauan unwillingness to work in other than government employment. The economy is heavily dependent on US aid, though tourism is very important. Money laundering is an issue.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

There is some political and cultural conflict and instability, but alarms over Filipino immigration have diminished. In 2001 the government imposed a ban on hiring Indian and Sri Lankan workers, because of rising tensions with local employers. Migrant workers, including those from the Philippines, and also China and Bangladesh, the three main sources of migrants, experience some limited discrimination. Despite some cultural and linguistic differences between the majority of Palauans and those from the southern islands there is no discrimination against them.

There is some opposition in neighbouring Guam to the presence of Palauans, with local Guamanians raising concern over the burden on health, welfare and educational institutions from Micronesians from Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated states of Micronesia, who have access rights to the united States.

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