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Tonga hard pressed to deal with social problems

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, July 18, 2008) – The Tonga Government is concerned about the plight of hundreds of deportees including convicted criminals and visa over-stayers who now live in Tonga after being deported from countries such as the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Some 443 deportees were forcibly sent to Tonga in the last five years and many of them do not speak Tongan. As well as assessing the needs of the deportees a new Tongan task force wants to start a dialogue with countries that remove criminals from their communities to inform them that they should be more conscious of where they are dumping them.

A two-day workshop to assess the situation of Tongan deportees ended in Nuku'alofa yesterday, July 16.

Tongan church leaders at a workshop to assess the plight of deportees

National concern

Viliami Afeaki from the Prime Minister's Office said that the plight of some of these deportees had become a national concern and the workshop was initiated by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, Hon. Dr Feleti Sevele told the gathering that it was clear that Tonga needed specialized skills and programmes to deal with the basic needs of the deportees, "that is the reason why I directed that this national workshop should be held to bring together representatives from Government Departments, the Churches, and civil society organizations and to ascertain how we can work together to meet those needs."

According to official records 443 Tongans were forcibly returned to Tonga between 2002 and 2007, including 173 from New Zealand, 116 from the United States, 40 from Australia, 11 from Fiji, one from American Samoa, and 99 who have no record of where they were deported from. The deportees range in age from 26 to 40 years.

Viliami said that the two main categories of deportees were those who were involved in criminal activities and those who had overstayed their visas. Some 80% of deportees from the USA had been involved in criminal activities.


During the first day of the workshop, there were panel discussions by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Immigration Department, the Police and the Crown Law Department.

Viliami said that on the second day they invited one of the deportees who was serving at the Hu'atoli Prison for theft to come and speak.

"The one pressing question that was raised during the workshop was how could a good, clean, church going 12-year-old Tongan boy get involved in criminal activities after he arrived at the USA?

"Culture shock was identified," said Viliami who believed this deportee had received a double dose, "because after living in the say, the USA for a few years, and then serving a prison sentence, he was then deported back to Tonga. He faced another culture shock when he arrived home"

Viliami also noticed that during the workshop the deportees talked to each other only in English.

At the end of the workshop a task force was formed firstly, to establish a dialogue with the countries who remove criminals and to inform them that they should be more conscious of where they are dumping these deportees.

"Some of these deportees are demanding respect from the Tongan communities, but on the other hand they should try and fit into their home communities."

Viliami said that the task force would also encourage the Tongan communities overseas to work closely with the Tongan youth who are getting into trouble in their communities.

The workshops were attended by many church leaders, Rev Dr. 'Alifeleti Malakai Mone (President, Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), Rev Luke Sikalu (President, Tonga Konisitutone), Rev Semisi Fonua (President, Tonga Tau'ataina), Rev Dr. Feke Mafi (President, Siasi ?o Tonga), Pastor 'Ofa Fatafehi (Gospel Church) Pastor Manu Latu (Seventh Day Adventists), Father 'Afa Vaka (Anglican Church), Patele Fatu Mulikiha'amea (Catholic Church), Rev Siaosi T. Kava (Tokaikolo Church).

Another workshop on the welfare of Tongan deportees has been scheduled for October. The workshop was funded by the European Union.

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