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Protection for Resettled Island Populations

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The Bikini Resettlement and its Implications for Environmental and Climate Change Migration

In the mid-1940s, Bikini Islanders were resettled to make way for the use by the United States of Bikini atoll as a nuclear weapons testing site. Although the relocation to another atoll was with the Bikinians’ ostensible consent, it was in truth a forced migration. The Bikinian resettlement is a significant case study on environmental migration in that it produced longstanding losses (cultural, material, and spiritual) and deep frustrations, the effects of which last up to today. How inadequate preparation, poorly conceived compensation, and the failure to understand the Bikinians’ deep attachment and connection to their island of origin produced profound irritations through the generations. The paper concludes that resettlement is not only about relocating to a new place, but about making such relocation sustainable. Both international and national law have a role to play in protecting indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their land, culture, and resources. If island communities are to be resettled at all due to unavoidable environmental conditions, policy and legal frameworks should minimize, if not avoid, expected material and cultural losses. Bikini’s experience continues to provide important lessons for environmental and climate change-induced migrations in the world today.

Affiliations: 1: Macquarie University, Sydney, School of Law


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