Fijian villagers have mixed feelings about Kiribati climate change refugees moving in

Locals in a Fijian village say there are mixed feelings towards the idea of climate change refugees coming to  the country.

Naviavia village is in the middle of 15,000 acres bought by the Kiribati government. Source: 1 NEWS

Fiji has promised to open its doors to climate change refugees and the government of Kiribati has taken the desperate step of buying land in Fiji for its people to use as a future refuge.

The government of Kiribati, where low lying atolls are at risk from rising sea levels, has paid about $10 million for 15,000 acres of land in Fiji and the village of Naviavia is in the middle of it.

Kiribati government officials visited Naviavia three weeks ago and plan to start growing crops soon.

Locals at Naviavia have mixed feelings.

"That's a really quality piece of land, good realistic land. We're talking about millions of dollars. None of us will ever be able to think about purchasing that land," said Adi Ulamila Wragg, a Fijian chief.

"Most are wondering what is going to happen? Are they going to be part of us or part of our community or are they going to have their own set up rules?" she said. 

However there is also an upside to Kiribati people coming to the area.

"We see that they bring new knowledge with them, traditional knowledge. That's something they can share with us," Adi Ulamila Wragg said.

The headman of Naviavia village, Marika Sude, worries about the future.

“My concern is what will happen with the people of Kiribati will come. That is the climate change we are facing,” he said.

The villagers are descended from Solomon Islanders and own no land in Fiji but have been allowed to stay there for generations.

“We have now a population of 260 so in 20 years time we growing up maybe 500-600. So that is important with us, if we have a good relationship with Kiribati they can give us some land,” Mr Sude said.

But for now the Naviavia villagers say the Kiribati government has told them they can continue to grow crops and farm cattle.

“We are lucky Pacific people. We know each other,” Mr Sude said.

While there needs to be extensive development local growers say the Kiribati government has bought valuable agriculture land perfect for growing vegetables and cash crops like kava.

Rising sea levels on Fiji have forced entire coastal communities forced to relocate inland.