Planned relocation has gained recent prominence as a tool for reducing vulnerable communities’ exposure to the impacts of climate change and disasters. It can be a pre-emptive measure to move people out of dangerous areas before disaster strikes or land becomes uninhabitable. It can also be used in the aftermath of a disaster if return home is not possible. In most cases, planned relocations will occur within countries, rather than across international borders.
However, there are three historical cases of communities being relocated across international borders, with at least another three mooted but never carried out. All occurred in the Pacific in the mid-20th century. They include the relocation of the Banaban community from present-day Kiribati to Fiji in 1945, the partial relocation of the Vaitupuans from present-day Tuvalu to Fiji in 1947, and the relocation of Gilbertese to the Solomon Islands between 1955 and 1964.
These relocations demonstrate the enduring centrality of matters such as the right to self-determination, self-governance, the preservation (and politicization) of identity and culture, and the right to control resources. They also highlight issues of consent, authority and participation. They reveal important lessons for any future relocations that might be contemplated.
This project also situates the phenomenon of cross-border relocation within a history that connects planned resettlement programmes with legally-sanctioned population transfers and exchanges from the 18th century onwards. Population redistribution was regarded as a legitimate means of addressing problems of overcrowding, resource scarcity, and, in turn, conflict. Relocation was understood both as a pre-emptive solution to anticipated overpopulation and resource scarcity, and as an answer to existing displacement.
Re-thinking relocation through an historical lens helps to situate contemporary ideas within a much longer intellectual framework, revealing unexpected connections and salutary lessons. The political and practical obstacles that stood in the way of relocation in the past remain today, and those experiences reinforce the findings of modern scholarship that resettlement is a fraught and complex undertaking, rarely considered successful by those who move.
Project director: Professor Jane McAdam
Climate change, disasters and displacement
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