U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Solomon Islands

An estimated 30,000 persons were internally displaced in the Solomon Islands at the end of 2000. Most became displaced following the outbreak of conflict on the main island of Guadalcanal in 1998, with an estimated 3,000 displaced since a June 2000 political coup. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that fewer than 50 refugees from the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville remained in the Solomon Islands at year's end.


During World War II, the United States brought laborers from Malaita, the most populous island in the Solomons chain, to work on Guadalcanal, the political center of the Solomons. Both the Malaitans and the indigenous population (known as Guali, Guadalcanalese, or, Istabu) 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, that resentment erupted into inter-ethnic conflict. The Guadalcanalese formed a rebel insurgency that demanded autonomy within the Solomons and an end to new migration.

In 1999, thousands of Malaitans were forced from their homes and suffered human rights violations including rape, torture, forced displacement, and burning of homes. By the end of 1999, a cease-fire had been declared and an international peace monitoring force was operating in Guadalcanal.

The UN estimated that in 1999 up to 20,000 Malaitans – one fifth of the population of Guadalcanal – were displaced (the majority of whom evacuated to Malaita), while as many as 12,000 Guadalcanalese fled their homes for other parts of the island.

Events in 2000

At the outset of 2000, tensions between the two groups began to escalate. Malaitan militants, known as the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), began an active campaign against the IFM. The MEF was largely supported by the police force, 75 percent of whom were Malaitans. In June, the MEF, along with paramilitary police officers, took over the capital, Honiara, and forced the resignation of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu (himself a Malaitan). Soon after, Manasseh Sogavare was sworn in as prime minister, and a new government – the Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace – was formed.

By the end of June, police forces in Mailata and Guadalcanal were disarmed and no longer functioning. The new government, however, was largely ineffective in easing tensions within the country.

On October 15, the two sides signed a peace agreement to end the nearly two years of violence. By year's end, however, no stable peace had been secured.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with the Solomon Islands Red Cross, continued to coordinate relief efforts for the displaced in Guadalcanal during 2000. ICRC also provided relief efforts to some of the more inaccessible parts of the Solomon Islands, including Sikaiana Island in Malaita Province, which saw its population increase by 40 percent as Malaitans fled Guadalcanal.

At the end of the year, most reports estimated the displaced population to be 30,000. Some 3,000 were believed to have been displaced since June. Amnesty International estimated that at least 100 people were killed in the Solomon Islands since 1998.


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