Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Margaret Teobasi Tadokata says the deadly riots and unrest in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara reflect the ethnic tensions that forced her and her young family to flee the country more than two decades ago.

Teobasi Tadokata arrived in Australia in 2000 with her husband and her then two-month-old baby.

Ethical tensions began as fights between people from the island of Guadacanal, which is home to the capital Honiara, and settlers from the most populous island in the province of Malaita.

A woman smiles while taking a selfie.
Teobasi Tadokata and her young family were forced to flee the Solomon Islands.(Delivered)

From 1998 to 2003, internal ethnic conflict between militants in Malaita and the nearby Guadalcanal became known as the “tensions”.

It is estimated that at least 200 people died.

“We could not go to Guadacanal. It is unsafe for me. And we could not go to Malaita, it is unsafe for my husband.

One woman pushes a wheelbarrow and others clean up between the rubble of a building
Renewed unrest has set people from Malaita up against Guadalcanal residents.(ABC News: Evan Wasuka)

“It was so insecure, it was so scary.

“So that’s why we fled the country and we came over to Australia.”

Teobasi Tadokata remembers that the militia came to her house and tried to harm her husband.

“They were actually trying to hurt him and we went into hiding for a few days until we got a visa and we could get out of the country,” she says.

Teobasi Tadokata followed the news and social media as riots broke out in Honiara last Wednesday, with protesters of mostly Malaita origin urging Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to resign.

At least three people have been killed – found in a burnt-out building in Honiara’s Chinatown – and more than 100 have been arrested for alleged looting and arson.

“It just breaks your heart, like seeing everything now, people are posting,” she says.

“It’s really, really emotional at the moment.

“Your heart hurts and you really feel very helpless.”

A destroyed building in Honiara with graffiti with the text 'China go home'
Looting has taken place in Honiara’s Chinatown.(Reuters: Jone Tuiipelehaki)

While far from home, she is in contact with friends and family members based on Honiara, who have been victims of recent riots.

“One of my uncles … his whole store has burned down,” she says.

“Now I know that all my aunts and cousins ​​and uncles, it’s their income, it’s family money that comes in.

“So it’s gone like this. What’s next? It’s really, really worrying and stressful.”

Chinese residents have previously experienced targeted violence

For Phillip Leong, who is also based in Melbourne, it is disturbing to see the unrest in his home country – but nothing he has not experienced before.

Brisbane born The 41-year-old grew up in the Solomon Islands but left in 2001, towards the end of ethnic tensions.

A 41-year-old man wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
Mr. Leong’s mother is still in the Solomon Islands.(Delivered by: Phillip Leong)

“They are pretty much … happy people, but when it comes to political issues, there are different views and ideas,” Mr Leong said.

“What I experienced is … if there is disagreement, there must always be … riots and looting, and that’s pretty sad.

“It was sad for me to experience it when I was there back in the late ’90s.”

Several residents of Honiara are holding shovels and inspecting a damaged building while others watch
The violence in Honiara has sent shock waves through the Solomon Islands diaspora.(ABC News: Evan Wasuka)

Sir. Leong is of ethnic Chinese descent and is also president of the Solomon Islands Victoria Association.

His grandfather was Chinese and helped build Honiara’s Chinatown.

It has been difficult to see Chinese-owned companies targeted in recent riots.

“It’s so sad because a lot of Solomon Islands communities here, we all have families and friends at home,” he says.

“Many of us have connections with people at home, they have the businesses … being looted, burned to the ground.”

Sir Leong stays in touch with his family in Honiara, saying it was painful to be so far away from his mother.

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