COOKS OFFICIALS DOUSE OUT-MIGRATION FEARS

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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Mar. 16) – Cook Islands officials say fears that recently lowered air fairs could trigger an exodus from the country are unfounded.

Some concerns were raised when the new deals offered by Pacific Express were announced two weeks ago, that the rock bottom prices would prompt people to head overseas.

But officials say they do not believe that people will be tempted away by the cheap offers, and suggest some could be tempted home as a result.

The new Pacific Express fares operate on a one-way system, and from May it will cost as little as $289 to fly between Rarotonga and Auckland.

Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton joked about the prospect of more people emigrating to New Zealand at the launch of the new service.

However Ewan Smith of the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce said that he did not believe that cheap flights would encourage more people to leave for greener pastures.

"I don't think the airfare has ever been a barrier to outward migration," he said. "These things are determined by the economic opportunities here rather than the cost of leaving. "Economic opportunity and access to good health and education are the main drivers towards migration."

Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Edwin Pittman agreed. He said that the cost of moving overseas was not the main factor in starting a new life.

"If people want to leave, then they are going to leave anyway. So that is not an issue that has been on our minds."

He added that the cheap flights could even bring Cook Islands expatriates back home.

"Personally I believe that one aspect of it is that more Cook Islanders overseas will take the opportunity for a holiday back here," he said. "And hopefully they will see that there are more economic opportunities here now and that may even encourage them to return home permanently."

In recent years the Cook Islands has suffered from a steady depopulation, and statistics show that last year some 703 Cook Islanders left the country.

Some 4,450 have emigrated since 1999.

March 19, 2004

Cook Islands News: http://www.cinews.co.ck/index.htm

 

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