4 Sep 2013

Pacific churches lay out issues for Forum leaders to focus on

5:02 pm on 4 September 2013

The Pacific Conference of Churches says Pacific Islands Forum leaders need to speak out firmly on climate change, independence for West Papua and the housing of asylum seekers in the Pacific.

The annual Forum summit is just underway in Majuro in the Marshall Islands and the PCC general secretary, Reverend Francois Pihaatae, told Don Wiseman that leaders must make progress on these three issues.

FRANCOIS PIHAATAE: Climate change is becoming business talk where everyone wants to inject money, but action is not there. It's only on paper.

DON WISEMAN: What sort of action should they be talking about taking?

FP: There is a possibility for relocation, so there is a need to address these kind of immigration aspects, how to deal with these people, to move either to Australia or Fiji or New Zealand, and their status, too - identity, culture and all those kinds of things need to be addressed. If they go to Australia, are they becoming Australian citizens or are they remaining Tuvaluan or Kiribati? All those kinds of issues need to be discussed and dealt with now. Because there is a very, very critical and urgent need for those islands.

DW: Now, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders have gone out of their way not to talk about West Papua in recent years. There's been a lot more focus on West Papua this year because of the backing from the Melanesian Spearhead Group. And you say the leaders should reflect this, as well.

FP: Yeah, because I think with all the information we've got from West Papua and from those who are working closely with them and also from the churches it seems that they're all left behind during all this injustice from the Indonesian government. Because West Papua is part of the Pacific. It's only because they are under the Indonesian government that they've become in Asia. But initially they are from the Pacific. That's why we address the issue because it's our brothers and sisters. It concerns PCC, especially in terms of human rights.

DW: You want the leaders at the summit to focus on what aspect of this asylum seeker situation?

FP: Yes, especially the way it [detention centres have been] brought to the Pacific. Now they have one in Nauru. They are bringing them in PNG. Who will be the next island? I don't think it will stay on those two islands. And then our Pacific will become a refugee asylum for those people and it will create problems, too, for our people. Already we are still struggling and facing many issues that sometimes we really don't know how to cope with. If new issues and challenges are brought to our islands it will be more difficult for us to deal with.