Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Marshall Islands

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Marshall Islands, 2007, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
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.


The Republic of the Marshall Islands consists entirely of coral atolls and reef islands and lies just north of the Equator.


After periods of German and Japanese colonial history the Marshall Islands became part of the postwar US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In the early years of this trust, the populations of Bikini and Enewetak were resettled so that the atoll could be used as a site for atomic bomb tests. These tests irradiated the island and people of the nearby atolls of Utirik and Rongelap.

The atoll of Kwajalein was later developed into a target range and subsequently a 'star wars' missile testing base. In 1982 the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the USA and became effectively independent, although the economy is exceptionally dependent on US aid. A second phase of the Compact was ratified in 2004, which effectively maintains this aid dependency, though much of the aid money is placed in a Trust Fund.


Main languages: Marshallese

Main religions: Christianity (mainly Protestantism)

There are no significant minority groups in the Marshall Islands though there are residents from the United States, Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere. Two-thirds of the population lives in the two overcrowded urban centres of Ebeye and Majuro, with the remainder scattered on more than twenty populated atolls. There is very substantial migration to the United States where many migrants remain something of an underclass.


There is a unicameral political system with a 33-seat Nitijela, and an advisory council of twelve high chiefs (Council of Iroij). Political parties are of minor significance.

The 'nuclear nomads' of Bikini settled on the southern atoll of Kili, and have not yet been able to return to their contaminated home island. Islanders from the four northern atolls have received substantial compensation payments for displacement and long-term health problems.

The economy is exceptionally dependent on United States aid through the Compact. Copra production has declined and tuna fishing is the basis of local production. Other attempts to develop a private sector have been unsuccessful.


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