Should they stay or should they go? The people of Tuvalu are being given the option to move away from their home for a better future, but it is a difficult decision for them to make.
For years, the people of Tuvalu have known about a looming danger to their nation: if action is not taken against the climate crisis, their Pacific island homes could eventually be engulfed by the ocean.
Due to the increasing urgency of climate change, Australia recently proposed a comprehensive treaty that would grant up to 280 individuals from Tuvalu the opportunity to live, study, and work in the country annually.
However, for individuals like Venu Edwin Pedro, a graphic designer and photographer from Tuvalu, the decision to relocate from their homeland is not an easy one.
“I have been raised here and have been able to create a positive life for myself,” says the 37-year-old man who is a father of seven. “I believe that God has a plan for us and we will not be defeated.”
Pedro has personally observed the effects of climate change, such as the submerging of villages due to the gradual erosion of Tuvalu’s coastlines caused by rising sea levels. This island nation comprises nine flat islands and is located approximately midway between Australia and Hawaii. Pedro expresses concern for the well-being of his children and fears that they may have to seek better opportunities outside of their homeland.
“I am uncertain about the islands’ future and how they will be affected by climate change,” he states. “I cannot predict if they will endure the next 12 years.”
I believe it would be beneficial for them to search for promising opportunities in Australia and establish their own families there.
Tuvalu receives a significant blessing in its history.
The agreement made between Australia and Tuvalu is anticipated to offer families like Pedro’s a quicker path to access these opportunities. It details a designated “special human mobility pathway” for Tuvaluan citizens to relocate to Australia. The arrangement has been embraced by influential members of the community, including Taualo Penivao from the Christian Church of Tuvalu, who expresses that it surpassed their expectations and is a momentous benefit for Tuvaluans.
Penivao suggests that migrating to Australia, which has a large amount of land, is the best option for ensuring the safety of people, rather than facing the growing consequences of climate change.
The agreement is anticipated to greatly increase the flow of migration between Australia and Tuvalu. Currently, there are approximately 250 Tuvaluans living in Australia, while only 30 have migrated to the country in 2021. With the implementation of this new deal, the number of Tuvaluans in Australia could potentially double within a year. However, it is estimated that Tuvalu may experience a loss of over 2% of its population during the same period. The details of the program are still being determined and Tuvalu’s climate change minister, Seve Paeniu, states that the government has not yet finalized the selection process for those who will migrate to Australia.
According to Paeniu’s statement to the Guardian, the agreement was not aimed at moving individuals affected by climate change. He maintains that Tuvalu is still actively striving to protect its land.
According to him, people from Tuvalu have the freedom to visit Australia and can also decide to go back to Tuvalu. He also mentions that the government does not view this agreement as a refugee settlement.
Our agreement with Australia is to restrict the number of migrants and prevent a large number of people from leaving Tuvalu and entering Australia.
According to him, this is a service that would enable Tuvalu residents to easily move to and live in Australia if they wish to leave Tuvalu voluntarily.
The most susceptible individuals who have been neglected or forgotten.
However, there may be some residents who desire to relocate to Australia but are unable to do so.
At more than A$900 (US$582; £469), flights to Australia are expensive in a country where a 2017 report found more than 25% of the population live below the poverty line. Visa application fees are also expected to be added to the cost, though neither Australia nor Tuvalu have indicated the total cost to migrate.
Talua Nivaga, the co-founder of Fuligafou, a youth-led environmental organization in Tuvalu, and a project manager for Oxfam, expressed approval for the relaxed migration restrictions to Australia. However, he believes that without financial support, only the wealthy in Tuvalu would have access to the program, making it an impractical solution for those most affected by climate change.
He explains that those who are most susceptible and lack financial resources will be unable to migrate and will be left behind. Migration requires a significant amount of money and preparation, making it an unrealistic option for them.
Some environmental activists, such as Richard Gokrun of Tuvalu’s Climate Action Network, are urging for the treaty to be “reexamined” by their government due to these concerns.
Gokrun expresses a desire to avoid being confined in foreign nations, stating that relocating would result in the loss of their cultures.
The agreement will need to go through “internal procedures” in both Australia and Tuvalu before being enforced, as the Australian parliament has not yet approved the agreement. According to Paeniu, it may take “nine to 12 months” for the treaty to be prepared for implementation. He also mentions that there is a chance for additional modifications to be made to the agreement based on the results of Tuvalu’s January elections, when a new government will have to “refresh” the treaty with Australia.
Despite his concerns about leaving his homeland, Pedro is confident that Tuvalu’s culture will continue to thrive even if its people move to other countries.
He states that the culture is carried by the people wherever they may travel. However, a place without people cannot be considered a country.