Seeking Refuge and Employment: Climate Change Pushes Islanders to Search for Jobs

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Australia is actively recruiting workers from Pacific islands, arousing anxieties of a brain drain exodus of skilled professionals from the area.

Over the years, Claire Anterea had seen numerous friends and family members depart her home in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati for a better life in regional powerhouse Australia. Yet, she never once considered joining them – until recently.

Seeking Refuge and Employment

Australia has taken significant strides this year in providing a permanent residency option for Pacific islanders and broadening its temporary labour programme. These actions are part of the country’s larger goal to counter China’s increasing impact throughout the region.

Anterea, 43 and an avid climate activist, is now weighing the possibility of setting up permanent residence in Australia due to her escalating worries about her homeland’s long-term outlook as the sea level rises from global warming.

“Where would we go if our people are affected by sea level rise?” Anterea shared in a phone call from her home in Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati. Her words carried an undeniable weight as she spoke to the reality that there was no other place for her and her community to turn.

“I have a great life, but what future do I have in store for my daughter?” she sighed. “To create a better life for her, I must migrate and find work elsewhere to provide for our new home.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Suppose sea levels continue to rise at the current rate. In that case, more than half of the land on the low-lying Tarawa atoll could be covered by 2100, threatening the homes and livelihoods of more than 60 per cent of its population, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As the dire forecasts of climate migration in decades to come loom, policymakers from island nations worry that Australia’s efforts to attract skilled migrant workers could cause a “brain drain” of talent.

According to Richard Curtain, a renowned Pacific labour mobility expert, the wages of workers from the Pacific region can be four times more in either Australia or New Zealand.

Last year, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) reported a shocking 37% youth unemployment rate in Fiji–making even temporary work an attractive opportunity for young people.

As the impacts of climate change drive workers and their families to find employment elsewhere, all countries must take action on this issue and provide support for those affected by it. With a global effort against climate change, we can prevent these migrations, and people can remain in their homes rather than search for jobs outside their home countries. The time for meaningful action is now.

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