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Petition calls on New Zealand government to recognise the country’s impact on Banaba

9 November, 2023

Interview by Rosetta Stone, Adapted by Ashley-Rose Redstone

Director and change maker at the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD), Erin Thomas, says that New Zealand needs to recognise the country’s negative impact on Banaba, and work towards improving conditions on the Pacific island.

From the early 1900s to around the end of the 1970s, a joint commission between the British, Australian, and New Zealand governments, mined 90% of the Pacific island of Banaba’s surface to extract Phosphate, making the island largely inhabitable to residents. 

By 1945, most Banaban people had been displaced, and forced to relocate to Rabi Island in Fiji, where most Banabans still reside today.

Only a few hundred Banabans still live in Banaba; which falls between the political boundaries of Kiribati and the northern Pacific. Many residents struggle to access clean water and are reliant on food imports.

Director and change maker at the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD), Erin Thomas, told 95bFM’s The Wire, that as a joint owner in the commission, Aotearoa has a responsibility to acknowledge its historical impact on Banaba and work towards improving conditions on the island.

“It is a matter of both reparations for harm caused, as well as ensuring that New Zealand's role in the region extends to preventing the continuation of its extraction.”

Thomas highlights that Phosphate extracted during the period was largely used to create the artificial fertiliser that bolstered Aotearoa’s agricultural industry for colonial settlers.

She says the government must ensure further mining does not happen on the island.

“We see continued efforts to re-mine Banaba from foreign mining companies, essentially repeating history.”

Thomas says the forced relocation of Banabans has caused long-term hardships that continue to affect them. 

“To this day, Banabans on Rabi Island face discrimination as a partially self-governing entity, largely falling between the cracks of the jurisdictions of Fiji and Kiribati.”

“How we protect the human rights of those who fall between the cracks of jurisdiction are all key questions that we want answered.”

The ICAAD has launched a petition calling on New Zealand to disburse immediate assistance to the island to ensure the population has sustainable access to basic food supplies and clean water, among other demands. 

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air