21 Nov 2012

Sugar refugees swelling Fiji's poor in squatter settlements

3:32 pm on 21 November 2012

A consultant with a non-governmental organisation working with poor people in Fiji says the decline of the sugar cane industry has drastically increased the population of the country's squatter settlements.

Father Kevin Barr's comment follows the National Farmers Union's accusation that the military government has pushed the industry into steep decline, which is depopulating areas traditionally associated with sugar such as Labasa.

Father Barr, who works with the People's Community Network, says there has definitely been a huge increase over the past few years in the number of people, largely from Labasa, moving to Suva to live in squatter settlements.

He says it is a long-standing problem related to land leases.

"Some of those who had the leases, those who owned the farms, possibly had enough finance to move to the city or even migrate overseas. But it's particularly a lot of the cane cutters, a lot of the poorer families, who had nowhere to go, and so they've come into the cities, to swell the ranks of the squatter settlements."

Father Kevin says many of the cane cutters struggle to find work in the cities.