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Dual citizenship

Govt hopes to raise over US$98m

The creation of dual citizenship in Vanuatu through constitutional change has created two fiercely opposing camps in a debate that refuses to die. In one corner are the purists, led by senior government minister Ralph Regenvanu, who has championed the change in order to enable the descendants from the infamous blackbirders’ era to gain Vanuatu citizenship for the first time. Blackbirding was the coercion through trickery and (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidnapping) kidnapping of people to work as labourers away from their homes.

From the 1860s, blackbirding ships in the Pacific took workers to mine guano deposits on Chincha Islands in Peru. In the 1870s, the blackbirding trade focused on supplying labourers to plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations of Queensland and Fiji. The first documented practice of blackbirding for sugar cane labourers occurred between 1842 and continued until 1904. It is believed that between 55,000 and 62,500 people were taken from this homeland during this insidious era.

Many of these people never returned to their original homes. The other noble aspect to this historic constitutional change was that it also paved the way for dual citizenship for the French or Francophone indigenous people who fled Vanuatu’s shores in some numbers around the time of independence 33 years ago. Now living in New Caledonia since the republic was born, these people have had no rights to the land of their birth, until now.

So December’s constitutional change allowing these groups dual citizenship, and therefore proper access to the land of their birth or their heritage, has been universally supported in Vanuatu. But mention dual citizenship and the government making money and the whole complexion changes dramatically, with opposition MPs claiming that making money was the real and sole reason for the constitutional alterations. The outcry relates to two programmes—one a few years old and one in its infancy, where the figures are still up for debate.

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