Social Isolation as a Policy Approach to Social Issues: States Demonstrate No Intention for Rehabilitation or Reintegration

When social isolation is the state policy approach to social issues, how ‘far away’ is far enough?

Tongans who have been deported from the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand receive limited support upon arrival to Tonga and are highly stigmatized by their communities. This stems from perceptions of returnee’s connections to the illicit drug trade, despite the fact that many returnees, including members of Dare to Dream, have fought to remain upstanding citizens in the Kingdom of Tonga and support each other to do the same. Still, Tongan development and human rights have received limited attention in recent years due to the volcanic eruption, and returnees’ issues, in particular, are neglected. 

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Media Coverage

ABC News: “Tonga Returnees Face Stigma and Struggles Upon Deportation”

Recent coverage by ABC The Pacific has highlighted the systemic neglect faced by Tongan returnees. Sending countries, namely the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand governments have chosen deportation as a policy strategy, which ignores the underlying social problems (such as poverty) that drive criminal activity, and elects to criminalize individuals for life, offering no genuine paths for reintegration or rehabilitation. This policy of social isolation extends to deportations, leaving returnees to face further rejection by the Tongan government. While Dare to Dream strives to reintegrate and support returnees, many still face significant stigma and lack of support.

Vosa Podcast: “Home is Where the Heart Is” – Season 3, Episode 4

The Vosa Podcast’s latest episode amplifies the voices of Tongan returnees, emphasizing the challenges they face. In the episode, we hear from Dare to Dream members, Charlene Wolfgram Matangi, Vivili Moala and Latu Liava’a, about their experiences of disconnection from home and how they’re working to support new returnees in adjusting to life back in Tonga.  

ICAAD’s Advocacy and Collaborations

ICAAD started work with Dare to Dream when hosting Katrina Ma’u Fatiaki under the Oceania Professional Fellowship Program in 2022. ICAAD has partnered with Dare to Dream, a nonprofit organization founded by returnees, to support their mission of fostering a positive future for returnees and vulnerable youth in Tonga. Katrina is a Board Member of Dare to Dream and saw the opportunity to collaborate with ICAAD to support Tongan returnees early on. 

Policy Brief: Tongan Returnees: Protecting the Right to Life with Dignity

We immediately recognized the opportunity to embed this work within our wider efforts around the Right to Life With Dignity. In early 2022, ICAAD hosted a focus group with members of Dare to Dream to connect their lived experiences with international human rights law. The result was a critical policy brief titled Tongan Returnees: Protecting the Right to Life with Dignity which shines a light on the unwillingness of governments in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and Tonga to address the socio-economic drivers of criminal activity. It calls for a shift in policy to ensure that returnees’ human rights are respected and protected.

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Collaboration with Dare to Dream

Despite their promises, the Tongan government has yet to allocate the necessary resources, including a promised section of land, to support Dare to Dream’s critical work. In 2022, ICAAD hosted an advocacy strategy workshop with Dare to Dream members to develop a plan for furthering their initiatives. Our ongoing collaboration aims to amplify their efforts and help hold the governments involved accountable for providing the support returnees need to rebuild their lives.

Micro-Documentary: Promoting the Wellbeing of Tongan Returnees

Our collaboration also included the production of a micro-documentary showcasing the organization’s impactful work in promoting the wellbeing of Tongan returnees and vulnerable youth. By bringing these stories to life, this documentary underscores the importance of genuine governmental support and the urgent need to uphold the right to life with dignity for all returnees.

Systemic neglect by the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and Tonga in addressing the needs of returnees is clear. These governments’ refusal to tackle the root causes of criminal activity and their failure to support reintegration efforts is a violation of the returnees’ right to life with dignity. The U.S., New Zealand, and Australia must urgently end their immigration policies that separate families, isolate individuals, and ignore their human rights obligations. Dare to Dream and ICAAD are collaboratively demanding urgent policy changes and genuine support from the Tongan government to ensure that returnees are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

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