Refugees in Tonga
The southern Pacific, Polynesian country of Tonga has become a popular tourist destination over the years for its serenity and beauty. What most people don’t know, however, is the exclusive and tight nature of the country’s natives. Given that its primary economic driver is remittance from Tongans that are working abroad, there isn’t enough capital, nor desire, to sustain refugees in Tonga.

To become more acquainted with the condition of refugees in Tonga, below are 10 facts:

  1. As of 2014, Tonga houses 22 total refugees. This is more than double the number in 2010, which was only six.
  2. Tonga is not interested in providing a home to displaced persons.
  3. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) requires that Tonga take care of one refugee and his daughter, by derivative status. The country must satisfy this condition to be included in the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  4. The Nationality Act in Tonga states that, in order for a Tongan-born child to be a citizen, their parent must also be of Tongan nationality. If both parents are foreigners, then the child will be stateless.
  5. Tonga has never implemented a law that would compel the country to give asylum or refugee status to any individual.
  6. However, if a person’s life or freedom is threatened, then the country does not force them to leave by deporting them back.
  7. The few migrants that live there have very few political rights and know that they are not very welcome. In fact, Tongan-born kids that have stateless or migrant parents usually have to leave the country at the age of 21. Some can continue to stay if they are able to obtain a passport.
  8. Whether someone receives asylum or not is completely in the hands of the government. The government usually requires the applicant to prove that there is harm in living in their home country.
  9. Ironically, in the past Tongan exiles often fled to Fiji. Now, it is more common for Fiji natives to find refuge in Tonga.
  10. Climate change has impacted Tonga significantly, and many Tongan natives are finding asylum elsewhere in response.

A plethora of refugees in Tonga is not something that is anticipated in the near future. Although it is hoped that Tonga will embrace refugees more readily, it is understandable that it does not want to take on more than it can handle until it can diversify and strengthen its economy.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr