Squatters Fall into Further Poverty

What is affected
Housing Social/public
Land Social/public
Type of violation Dispossession/confiscation
Date 01 January 2003
Region Oceania
Country Fiji
Location country-wide1

Affected persons

Total 3
Men 0
Women 0
Children 0
Proposed solution

Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)

Brief narrative Wrong Side of ParadiseBy Rory Callinan, 29 March 2007The call to Semiti Qalowasa was brief. The anonymous male said: Stop working with the squatters and exposing corruption, otherwise you are forcing us to come and rape your wife, and kill your kids and you as well. I didn’t take it seriously, says the Fijian social worker. I thought it was just someone who disliked the government. It didn’t stop me moving about the community. That was until he turned up for work and found the office of his NGO, the Ecumenical Centre for Research, Education and Advocacy, smeared with excrement. Then I started to realize I was putting my family in danger with this kind of work. Qalowasa is not the only one to receive such threats, a product of the tensions created by Fiji’s vast squatter settlements. Out of sight of the tiny Pacific nation’s internationally famous resorts with their manicured grounds, picture-postcard beaches and beaming staff, a swathe of desperate humanity resides in flimsy and illegally built shanties, without sewerage, running water, electricity or garbage disposal. This mainly Indo-Fijian underclass represents more than 10 per cent of the country’s 900,000 population. A third of them have no income at all; four out of five lack the means to provide three meals a day for their families.And they have no opportunity to purchase a house, says Dharam Lingham, the country’s former senior bureaucrat in charge of squatters. It’s one of the main social problems facing Fijians today, he says. These are very poor people who are already in a cycle of poverty. Whole families are suffering. Lingham, who resigned his post six months ago, says the government’s response is hopelessly inadequate. If something is not done, half of Fiji will be living in these settlements in 20 years’ time. In a soon to be released research paper, Lingham has found that since 2003 the number of squatters has risen from just over 80,000 to the current 100,000, spread across about 125 settlements. He estimates that in the 30-km corridor between the nation’s capital Suva and its satellite town of Nausori, 9,000 new homes are required now to cope with the 2,500 people currently facing eviction from existing settlements. The drift of rural families into cities in search of better jobs and improved living conditions is part of a global trend, but in Fiji the country’s land-ownership policies have exacerbated the problem. Laws passed in the 1970s obliged nonindigenous farmers to take 30-year leases on the land they worked. As the leases expired, the Government encouraged indigenous Fijian landowners not to renew them, but instead to farm the land themselves. The nonindigenous farmers were given cash payouts to leave, but their workers received nothing.Farming families like the Kumars, from the Nanuku squatter settlement on the coast near Suva, were among those who lost their farms and were driven into the city in the late 1990s. My father and I went twice to the landowners to ask them to renew the lease, says Rohit Kumar. But both times they refused. I was crying when I left. I was looking around seeing this place I had grown up farming, seeing the place where I used to play as a little boy. Today Kumar, his wife and four children are crammed into an 8 m by 5 m shack located in the middle of a mosquito-infested mangrove swamp. Around them is a garbage tip of old tyres, tins and broken-up asbestos sheeting; human waste fills a network of stinking open drains that regularly overflow during high tide. Kumar and his wife bring in about $80 a week; a relative cares for the children, who do their homework by candlelight. We only eat meat once a week, he says, while cooking on a smoky outdoor hearth. Sometimes all we have to eat is rice. In 2005, Fiji’s government pledged $3.5 million to provide housing for the squatters, but Lingham says what’s needed is at least $10 million a year f
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