The Republic of Palau, a small island group in the Pacific, forms the far-western chain of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia. The country is doing surprisingly well in terms of its refugee population, which began decreasing rapidly in 2009. It is now at its lowest rate of refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the UNHCR. Here are 10 facts about Palau refugees and how the country handles those in need of sanctuary.
- Because of Palau’s small numbers of asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless persons, and internally displaced persons, Palau is not a participant of either the Status of Refugees 1951 Convention or the Status of Stateless Persons 1954 Convention. This means that Palau is not protected under this treaty.
- Despite not being a signatory of these conventions, Palau commendably took in 11 refugees from Myanmar, known as Uighurs, in 2009. These 10 men and 1 woman fled from Myanmar for fear of arrest after their political outcry. They moved from Malaysia to the Philippines, resting finally in Palau because of its openness and visa-free entry.
- While the refugees awaited their asylum acceptance, a local Roman Catholic church housed and fed them. During their stay, a spokeswoman for the refugees said that they finally felt free in Palau.
- Palau President Johnson Toribiong said upon the guests’ arrival, “It’s our age-old tradition to receive those in need whenever they somehow arrive on our shores.” The government and Palau locals selflessly gave the Uighurs hope of asylum and temporary relief from arrest.
- Palau made an official agreement with the U.S. in 2009 upon the arrival of the Uighurs that it would extend its small island to the refugees as home. A long-standing friendship with the U.S. aided President Toribiong’s acceptance of the Uighurs as part of both countries’ human rights system.
- Toribiong vehemently dismissed allegations upon the Uighurs’ arrival that the government of Palau accepted the 10 men and 1 woman as part of a reported pact between the U.S. and Palau, where the former would be paid $200 million. Toribiong claimed Palau’s goodwill was spurred only by its humanitarian nature.
- Palau’s reputation of accepting all displaced or endangered people is reflected in its population, which is comprised of 20,000 natives and some 6,000 foreign citizens, including 445 Bangladeshi Muslims.
- The UNHCR noted that Palau’s involvement with the Pacific Immigration Directors’ Conference will only increase the collective and national response to issues of refugee acceptance and protection.
- As a Pacific Island country, Palau remains under watch for its own displaced persons, due to climatic factors such as rising sea levels, frequent severe storms, and increased salinization. In the case of such an event, the population is protected by the IASC Pacific Humanitarian Protection Cluster, co-led by UNHCR and OHCHR to support the country in case of displacement.
- A recent 2016 Palau Human Rights Report states that Palau continues to respect the law of Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons. The law allows for internal movement, emigration, and foreign travel for all Palau residents.
It appears that Palau is doing well as it has low numbers of internal refugees, and welcomes others in need of assistance and asylum. The situation of Palau refugees shows that the country is progressing past the immigration turmoil of many other countries.
– Olivia Cyr