Call on Australia to restart reconnection program for South Sea Islanders

Australia should consider restarting the program to connect South Sea Islanders to their families in Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, says Regenvanu

By Anita Roberts

Vanuatu’s Leader of Opposition has called on the Australian Government to consider restarting it’s program of reconnecting South Sea Islanders with their families in Pacific countries like Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.

It’s something that the Australian Government should do again as part of its Pacific ‘Step-up’ foreign policy to promote connections between the Pacific people, said Opposition Leader, Ralph Regenvanu.

“The Australian Government did have a program dedicated to assist South Sea Islanders financially, to come back to Vanuatu to find and get to know their roots,” he said.

“I think it’s a good step if the Australian Government could restart that program as a first step towards what more we can do.

“It’s something that the South Sea Islanders have called upon.

“This reconnection will enable ‘organic connections’ to emerge.”

Regenvanu made the call on Australia to restart the reconnecting program following the formal apology issued by the Mayor of Bundaberg, Jack Dempsey, to the South Sea Islander Community in Bundaberg for the practice of ‘blackbirding’ during Vanuatu’s Independence Day.

Blackbirding refers to the practice of stealing or kidnapping Pacific Islanders to work as indentured laborers in cotton and sugarcane farms in Queensland and New South Wales more than 150 years ago.

Mayor Dempsey’s apology marks the first formal apology by a government official to those who were taken from their homes and their descendants.

He said the practice of “forcing indentured labour into Queensland cane fields was equivalent to slavery and abhorrent”.

The colonial era “wasn’t kind” to Vanuatu, as its islands were exploited for their natural and human resources since the Spanish arrived on the Island of Santo in the 1600s.

“The community has been crying out for this; families have been crying out for it for years,” he said.

“Bundaberg can be the first in Australia to say sorry and the first to be able to recognise and to be able to have a relationship with Vanuatu.”