For a number of years the Diocese of Polynesia has been dealing with the pressing issue of landless people. This is a long-standing historical issue which goes to the core of the cultural hierarchy in Fiji. On its own a deeply political issue, the uncertainty of the overall political climate in Fiji has worsened the situation.
In Fiji countless people of Melanesian or Indian descent, many of whom are children, face the threat of eviction.
There are three categories of land users. Some are occupying Native Lease areas and pay a lease e.g. Matata; some are occupying state land or privately-owned land as squatters and do not have any title to the land where they are occupying e.g. people in Nadawa and some parishioners in Ba. Others were “given” land to use by traditional landowners but now the land is being subdivided for development and those living there are facing the ultimatum of buy your land or leave it. e.g. Namara.
The most crucial thing that needs to be addressed is the security of the people residing in these lands. In some cases the action taken will be less complex because all that is required is the payment of new leases; for others it will not be so easy since they have to be relocated. What is clear is that in some areas, time is running out and that action will need to be taken (including the purchasing of land) over the next 12 to 18 months or people will be left homeless.
In 2011 only a few areas will be assisted: families in Ba, Tavua, Namara and Nadawa. These are not new projects but a continuation of an existing project since a considerable amount is needed to be able to resettle them. The people themselves will have to buy the land and also build their own homes.
As the years roll by the situation becomes even more critical as the land development comes to a conclusion and the owners move to dispose of their land or require a return on the investment they have made. This will make it very difficult for many living in these settlements to stay where they are. The Diocese is building up a fund to assist people in this situation and the funds from AMB form a significant part of the fund. However time is starting to run short and the potential cost of the land is increasing.
Photo: People of Nadawa. (Left back: Warden, Middle back: Lay Minister, Right back: Deacon)