The low-lying Pacific nation of Kiribati is negotiating to buy land in Fiji so it can relocate islanders under threat from rising sea levels
The low-lying Pacific archipelago of Kiribati Photo: REUTERS
In what could be the world's first climate-induced migration of modern times, Anote Tong, the Kiribati president, said he was in talks with Fiji's military government to buy up to 5,000 acres of freehold land on which his countrymen could be housed.
Some of Kiribati's 32 pancake-flat coral atolls, which straddle the equator over 1,350,000 square miles of ocean, are already disappearing beneath the waves.
Most of its 113,000 people are crammed on to Tarawa, the administrative centre, a chain of islets which curve in a horseshoe shape around a lagoon.
"This is the last resort, there's no way out of this one," Mr Tong said.
"Our people will have to move as the tides have reached our homes and villages."
Mr Tong said the plan would be to send a trickle of skilled workers first, so they could merge more easily with the Fijian population and make a positive contribution to that country's economy.
"We don't want 100,000 people from Kiribati coming to Fiji in one go," he told the state-run Fiji One television channel.
"They need to find employment, not as refugees but as immigrant people with skills to offer, people who have a place in the community, people who will not be seen as second-class citizens.
"What we need is the international community to come up with an urgent funding package to deal with that ambition, and the needs of countries like Kiribati."
His government has launched an Education for Migration programme, aimed at upskilling its population to make them more attractive as migrants.
Kiribati youngsters study for degrees at the Fiji-based University of the South Pacific, which is jointly owned by 12 Pacific island countries.
Dr Alumita Durulato, a lecturer in international affairs at the university, said: "They are already preparing quite well.
"They have educated their youth to be able to survive in the new lands that they want to go to."
Kiribati, a member of the Commonwealth, was known as the Gilbert islands until independence from Britain in 1979.
Nowhere on its total land area of 313 square miles is more than 2ft above sea level.