TWO dozen Dominican friars and sisters ministering on the Solomon Islands are safe despite extensive damage and fires across the capital city Honiara as civil unrest deepens, Dominican Provincial and Carina priest Fr Anthony Walsh said.Dominicans safe as buildings stoned and burned in Solomon Islands unrest – The Catholic Leader
TWO dozen Dominican friars and sisters ministering on the Solomon Islands are safe despite extensive damage and fires across the capital city Honiara as civil unrest deepens, Dominican Provincial and Carina priest Fr Anthony Walsh said.
The Dominicans live in community near the airport, separated from the main city by a bridge, which is closed.
The Solomon Islands have a history of periodic civil unrest, including arson in the Chinatown district of Honiara, which goes back to 2001.
The unrest was linked to long-standing economic jealousies between the Malaita Province and other provinces.
Fr Walsh said this latest period of unrest was a “resurfacing” of those old tensions.
He said the trigger this time was when Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare dropped diplomatic ties with Taiwan to pick them up with China in 2019.
Malaita Province had strong ties with Taipei and Malaita Premier Daniel Suidani has repeatedly defied the government’s foreign policy position to engage Taiwan for aid.
“That’s been boiling away for a while,” Fr Walsh said.
Tensions boiled over after a peaceful protest of 1000 people from Malaita Province in Honiara turned violent on Wednesday.
Police descended on the protest and fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd.
Since then, buildings have been stoned and set alight as chaos spread across the city and to other provinces.
Australia has sent a contingent of police officers, army officers and officials as part of a deal between the two nations.
Around 1am local time, 23 Australian Federal Police officers arrived to bolster Solomon Islands’ police force.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed the Australian presence was not intervention but to help with “riot control”.
The unrest is likely to hang around despite a 36-hour lockdown called for the capital.
Fr Walsh said what made this time different was the fires were reportedly closer to the airport than in previous periods of unrest.
Thankfully, he said, the people did not have access to weapons like in previous times of unrest.
Based in Honiara, Caritas Australia’s Program Quality Coordinator for Solomon Islands Rose Everlyn Clough said the unfolding protests have been “alarming”.
“But what really worries me are the impacts on the communities we’ve been working with for so long,” she said.
“I’ve been working with some very remote communities, and I know that they will face even more challenges the longer that this continues.
“For communities that are already struggling without access to clean water, or with limited livelihoods options, these kinds of events just create more uncertainty and more disruption.
“We hope that the protests ease down soon so that we can continue our work, and we ask for support from Australians to make sure that those who are already struggling to access food and clean water don’t go without during this period.”
Caritas Australia’s Pacific manager Emma Dawson said the longer the protests go on, the more the supply chain would be disrupted.
“This means that communities might not be able to buy or trade goods, including food and vital supplies for hygiene and sanitation, which are already a problem in the country,” she said.
“For families already living close to the poverty line this could push them under, and remote communities will become even more isolated.”
Caritas Australia has been working in the Solomon Islands since 1999, and continues to work with local communities to increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, as well as spreading life-saving information about the importance of COVID-19 treatment and vaccination.