VICTORIA — Off the coast of East Africa are the Seychelles, an archipelago consisting of more than 100 islands that are believed to have been untouched by man until the late 18th Century when the French, Indians and Africans settled the area. Today, it is known for its tourism, and fishing and construction industries, boasts a low unemployment rate and has a democratically elected government.
Recently, the Seychellois government has worked in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and has a permanent U.N. representative. It is also now ostensibly clear that island states like Seychelles will be the most vulnerable to the initial catastrophic results of future climate events, meaning they will contribute to the likely impending climate-refugee crisis. That said, below are 10 facts about Seychelles refugees.
1. Between 2000-2012, there was reportedly about 500 total Seychellois refugees.
The first of the 10 facts about Seychelles refugees is rather encouraging, as it appears that life for Seychellois is pretty favorable, generally speaking. According to the International Organization for Migration’s 2013 Seychelles Migration report, 536 Seychellois were granted refugee status in seven different countries over the 12 year period; reasons for these low numbers remain unknown.
2. North America takes in a large portion of refugees and migrants.
During this 12 year period, 61 refugees were granted refugee status in Canada and 364 in the U.S. According to UNICEF’s Seychelles Migration Profile, as of 2013, (while they are different from refugees) the U.S. was the second highest destination for Seychellois migrants, with Canada ranked fourth.
3. The Seychellois government recognized and publicly addressed fundamental causes of the global refugee crisis.
Seychelle’s UN representative, Ambassador Marie-Louise Potter, attended a 2016 meeting in New York hosted by the 71st United General Assembly. The agenda consisted of addressing the growing global refugee crisis and Potter urged heads of state and policy makers from around the world to collectively work on addressing the problem. “(The) international community (needs) to tackle the causes for unleashing large, irregular displacement of migrants, which are armed conflicts, natural disasters and the absence of an inclusive leadership,” Potter said, according to a statement from the Seychellois’ Department of Foreign Affairs.
4. There are few refugees from abroad living in Seychelles.
Little to no information is known about refugees from other countries living on the islands. The protection of refugees under international law was established following the 1951 U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the subsequent implementation of its 1967 protocol. Despite this, Seychellois law does not provide for the protection of refugees, nor does it allow for the granting of asylum or refugee status. In addition to this, the government has not been able to provide domestic refugee statistics, nor has UNICEF, the United Nations, The World Bank or Amnesty International.
5. Even if there were refugees from abroad in Seychelles, there would be little for them there.
For many refugees, fleeing to a small, remote island chain immediately after escaping armed conflict or persecution, may not be a feasible or practical choice to make for a couple of reasons (excluding climate concerns). First off, the country is highly dependent on imports, meaning the inflation and the cost of consumer goods and services are inevitably going to be higher than in most other landlocked nations.
Secondly, the stabilizing forces of the Seychellois economy are those of the construction, tourism and fishing industries, in which there lies a lack of diversity that leaves its economy particularly vulnerable to global economic events.
6. Climate change could cause the Seychellois and citizens of neighboring islands to be among the first ever climate refugees.
Rising sea levels are posing catastrophic threats to island states across the planet, and Seychelles is no exception. Although the country does have higher ground unlike other similar regions like Kiribati or Tuvalu, the problem is that the remaining mountainous land is not habitable, which also leaves the problem of storm-related erosion as being just as much of a concern. Seychelles also lacks the financial capacity to invest in infrastructure that could give the archipelago a chance at fighting the effects of climate change.
Although the Seychellois government is diligently devoted to helping to combat climate change, they have little stake in either the problem or solution. In the U.S. or larger countries alike, retreating inland from coastal areas is more or less a feasible option for future victims of climate events. For the Seychellois, when considering that 80 percent of their economic activity takes place on the coast and about 80 percent of the population lives there, climate change would certainly result in absolute economic devastation and a failed state.
7. The state was originally formed by migrants, in a way, since it had no indigenous population.
Most historians agree that no one had attempted to settle on the islands until 1770 when seven slaves, five southern Indians, 15 Frenchmen and a single African woman were sent there to create a spice plantation. The first official census data was not taken until 1789, at which point the population size was 591.
8. The Seychellois refugee population by country or territory is lower than it has been in decades.
As of 2016, The World Bank states that the refugee population by country or territory or origin shrunk to five; In 1994, this number was 553.
9. Increased foreign immigration is causing high youth unemployment.
In recent times the terms migrant and refugee are often used interchangeably due to lack of understanding, political discourse and other factors. But these terms (and their subsequent statuses) are distinctly different. While refugees are individuals fleeing persecution or armed conflicts, migrants are individuals simply trying to better their lives through seeking education, employment or other avenues.
With foreign economic immigration on the rise, unemployment among youth — ages 15-24 — was 11 percent or nearly three times the national average in 2014. This high number is due to the fact that the Seychellois typically have little interest in working low-skilled jobs; however, most highly specialized professions are occupied by foreigners, decreasing hope for opportunity and leading to increased migration by skilled Seychellois citizens.
10. The Seychelles workforce cannot afford to take into too many refugees or migrants.
In 2014, the government implemented a quota system upon employers that established a limit on the amount of foreign workers they were permitted to recruit, which effectively safeguarded jobs for Seychellois citizens. Their main reason for doing this is due to the fact that as of 2014, foreigners — most coming from India and Madagascar — comprised a shocking 24 percent of the workforce.
Although these 10 facts about Seychelles refugees are not all-encompassing of the situation, they should still help to serve as a reminder that migrants and refugees are two very different types of people and require different aid. Island states like Seychelles will present major refugee related problems to the international community in the years to come, so it’s imperative that the world keeps a watchful and preemptive eye on these nations.
– Hunter McFerrin