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10 Facts About Marshall Islands Refugees

Springdale, Northwest Arkansas, is just a few thousand miles from the Marshall Islands. Springdale has become a prominent relocation center for Marshall Islands refugees. As the “poultry capital of the world,” Springdale has offered Marshallese refugees employment through Tyson, a frozen food company.

The Marshall Islands is a small coastal republic consisting of a few main islands and coral atolls. Rising sea levels, intense tropical storms and droughts have disrupted life in the Marshall Islands. Climate change is at the root of these issues. Here are 10 facts about Marshall Islands refugees.

10 Facts About Marshall Islands Refugees

  1. They are also known as “climate refugees”, which is not an internationally recognized term. The Geneva Convention in 1951 does not have guidelines for nations dealing with “climate refugees.”
  2. More than one-fifth of the Marshall Islands population relocated to northwest Arkansas. Springdale is currently home to more than 7,000 Marshall Islands refugees. Springdale contains Marshallese street signs, newspapers and radio stations promoting the native language.
  3. Marshallese youth are attending college with plans to eventually return home. Many of them received government grants to obtain a degree and return to the Marshall Islands if they work for environmental efforts for at least a year.
  4. The first female head of state of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, was also the first to receive a PhD as a Marshallese refugee. Heine has become one of the pioneers of higher education amongst all Islanders in hopes that most, if not all, will return with a greater knowledge on ways to save the Marshall Islands.
  5. The Compact of Free Association has allowed for Marshall Islands refugees to migrate visa-free to the United States. It was created as a favor after Marshallese land was used as a site for nuclear testing.
  6. Rising sea levels could leave Marshall Islands refugees stateless. With their land being destroyed by climate change rapidly, the Marshallese are losing their claim to sovereignty. This will mean becoming dependent upon other nations and traces of their past being lost. The 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons does not require any country to assist any Marshall Islands refugees if their land was engulfed by the Pacific.
  7. Marshall Islands refugees are the first Pacific Islanders to migrate to northwest Arkansas. Hawaii, California and Oregon are the only other places where Pacific Island refugees have relocated.
  8. Some Marshall Islands refugees require medical attention because of the effects of nuclear testing done by the United States on Bikini. The “Bravo Shot” that was tested in Bikini was “1,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”
  9. Not all Marshall Islands refugees care to return home. Places such as Springdale have provided stability for many Marshallese, which is a preferred alternative to the issues plaguing their homes back in the Marshall Islands.
  10. New eco-friendly business and inventions have been a part their activist efforts. The University of the South Pacific created a way to purify water through solar desalination, just one of the many new ideas created by Marshall Islands refugees.

Despite the disastrous effects of global warming, the Marshallese are making headway on slowing its path until they can find permanent solutions.

Mackenzie Fielder

Photo: Flickr