Enriching Migration: Away & Home

This week began with a bit of good news: Madam Speaker of the Federal Parliament in Canberra, Ms Bronwyn Bishop, reversed her earlier decision to ban burqa-wearing visitors from sitting
22 Oct 2014 13:04
Enriching Migration:  Away & Home
Fiji Football Association president Rajesh Patel (fourth from left) and CEO Mohammed Yusuf at the construction site of the academy in Labasa on July 4, 2020. Photo: Renu Radhika

This week began with a bit of good news: Madam Speaker of the Federal Parliament in Canberra, Ms Bronwyn Bishop, reversed her earlier decision to ban burqa-wearing visitors from sitting in the public gallery of the Parliament.

They were designated places behind sound-proof glass screens, usually reserved for school children, for security reasons.

Why it was first imposed remains a question in the terrified consciousness of many. Fortunately it was short-lived.

This has happened as Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, has gone to witness the swearing-in ceremony of the second President popularly elected in the Republic of Indonesia, Joko Widodo.

Mr Widodo is the first president elected who is not part of the political or military elite of Indonesia. His priorities are Health and Education, with hard work.

Indonesia is the greatest challenge to Australia’s foreign relations: it’s the largest archipelagic neighbour with more than 17, 000 islands; it’s the largest Muslim nation in the world with a population of 250 million; it’s the third largest democracy in the world; and its adjacent to the former Australian colony, PNG. The problems of West Papua are never far from the regional borders.

Successive Australian governments make their policies Indonesia-focused, including spying and phone-tapping for ‘national security’.

It’s interesting to note that the people who now lead the three remarkable and largest democracies are: Narendra Modi , a sometime tea-seller at a railway station in Gujarat; Barack Obama whose father was a goat-herd in Kenya; and Joko Widodo , a former furniture-maker in Jakarta: carpenters are known to change the world most radically, the Good Book tells us.

How they have migrated to the top elected offices in the democratic world is quite remarkable.

Their challenges are more extraordinary: all three democracies one might see as predominantly dominated by three of the world’s most pervasive religious cultures — Hindu, Christian, Muslim– bounded by multicultural seas and secular skies.

A friend and former student of mine wrote last week that he was disappointed in the many maiden speeches delivered in Fiji’s new Parliament. I assured him that the most critical thing is that there’s now a functioning Parliament in Fiji and that is renewed reason for hope and faith, trust and freedom.

Much will depend on the Speaker and Members of the Parliament. The Speaker becomes and develops into a symbol of both dignity and decorum, and adds substance to discipline and impartiality of the proceedings of the Parliament. Anyone who diminishes that privileged position devalues the institution itself. And elected MPs give shape and form, and mirror and reflect the vision and values of a free society.

Ms Bishop has wisely reversed the decision at a time when civil liberties are being compromised in the shadows of terrorism—some frighteningly real, some wildly speculative.

When this happens the Parliament is the supreme symbol of a nation’s bastion and guardian of fundamental freedoms even that of fundamentalism.

These thoughts came to my mind not because I’ve read any of the speeches in Fiji’s Parliament lately; rather they came because I read, as reported in my favourite Fiji daily, a speech given by the Prime Minister Hon Voreqe Bainimarama to a group of soccer players.

Apparently the football tournament was organised by FANCA—Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America. The tournament has been going on since 1995.I knew nothing about it but was happy to read Fiji had beaten America by two goals to one!

But the report did capture my interest in what the Fijian Prime Minister said to these players: ‘Fiji will always be your home, no matter where you’ve gone to live…

‘We’re friends and family…our ties and affections are not diminished by time or distance but are re-inforced and strengthened whenever we meet…

‘Many of you had given up on Fiji. You had lost hope that you could have equal stake in our nation. Time has changed and government has established once and for all every citizen deserves the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. We’ve genuine equality. And for the first time everyone is a Fijian.’

These are simple words but, when said with sincerity, they acquire significances beyond history; in many countries they’re taken as the birthrights of citizens. For Fiji they are fresh ideas—refreshing and reassuring and reaching out.

And to hear it from an elected Prime Minister is profoundly moving. No political leader of Fiji, notably a Prime Minister, has ever spoken in the tone of genuine welcome to those who left Fiji, especially in the past twenty-seven years.

Migration is of course a world phenomenon of the most universal kind. It has changed the world most vitally and vivaciously.

The world’s only super power is essentially a migrant nation. Closer home Australia is an immigrant country struggling to find its national identity that includes the Aboriginal people. A referendum is due within the next couple of years that will further bind the nation’s wounds of history and lead it towards greater prosperity and harmony.

These thoughts come to mind because recently India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the US. At Madison Square Garden, in New York, he exhorted a large audience of migrant Indians to think of how they can help India. Next month he’ll be in Australia, and organisations are making preparations to repeat that performance on a smaller scale on this island-continent.

Australia, of course, is not America. It’s a skeptical, secular state—its origins have been historically quite different.

The fact that it is in the southern hemisphere makes a huge difference not only to Christmas celebrations but the perceptions of the world realities from Down Under.

Australia is washed by the two largest oceans and surrounded by the oldest cultures not only within it but ancient civilizations up North. Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s Booker winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North gives glimpses of the brutalities and glories of being an Australian.

Today Australians are among the most travelled people in the world. It’s happened in Fiji too.

People, who are in the FANCA societies, now have immediate contact with their people in little Fiji. And those networks and bonds are ever increasing.

Most of the girmit people never returned home and had no contact with their village folks.

They stayed in the lines and established new life- lines.

A world was totally lost, except in their memories of childhood and adolescence, in their songs and stories, and daily living and dying, in their ceremonies, rituals, festivals, their clothing and utensils, their food and relationships between rows of sugar-cane and green paddy fields. Above all, with the people of Fiji.

Australia boasts of mateship but there’s no deeper mateship than what the shipmates from the ports of Calcutta and Madras experienced on the 87 ships which carried them to the islands across the black waters. These journeys have to be re-imagined and made real and understood.

History is not only in the pages of a book, it’s also in the waves of the sea, and flights of aircraft, on the paths we walk on every day.

That is why that speech by the Hon Prime Minister Hon Voreqe Bainimarama has such poignant ring about it.

It’s also a call to challenge our enduring relationship with Fiji. Migration from Fiji now can be a boon to Fijians. Today it’s estimated that around 250 million people are living outside the country they were born in.

It’s not only the remittances they send to their home people that are so enriching.

Most of them are dynamic citizens in the new landscapes living in skyscrapers. It takes courage and hard work to carve out a future in a new land, having lost your old homes. These of course have become the most powerful diasporas—the Chinese, Indians, including the older European, part of the imperial exploration and imagination.

What is most significant is that migration brings new ideas and values into the societies from which people have migrated.

The PM’s call to these young men (and women) that Fiji will always be your home is a marvellous definition of what it means to be a Fijian. He has substantiated it by giving everyone a common national identity. And most practically the provision of dual citizenship.

Many developed countries have used these means –dual citizenship and PR–to take advantage of the human capital that people provide. And it brings other kinds of capital too. It’s a capital concept in our globally capitalist world!

Migrants from Fiji are not likely to give up their citizenship to these new countries where they’ve settled after their traumatic betrayals in the country of their birth and first love. But the connections with Fiji remain as part of their unique identity.

In a world of ideas, education, employment, telecommunications, interconnected internet universe, the Fijian migration is a rich source of resources to be explored and harnessed, in the most positive ways.

The elected PM of Fiji has set the tone. How the Parliament and people use it will determine to some extent how Fiji moves forward in its pursuit of national prosperity and family fulfillment.

In the Draft Constitution there was a suggestion:

That those who were forced by coups to leave Fiji in the three coups—two in ‘87, one in 2000—should be allowed to regain their Fiji citizenship without monetary cost.

It’s an idea worth pursuing in the new Parliament as long as those who wish to have their citizenship back come to Fiji and make their applications.

Their visits to Fiji will bring more money into Fiji’s national coffers than the current fees charged for regaining Fijian citizenship. It’s good for the tourist industry too.

Besides, it will be a healing gesture and a genuine welcome back.

Feedback: newsroom@fijisun.com.fj


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