- By Ongerung Kambes Kesolei
Nowhere to live
More than 200 Palauan families displaced by court decision to return lands to original landowners
Koror — Palau is facing a crisis due to the displacement of families as several landowners have moved to evict residents from their lands following Palau Supreme Court’s decision returning public lands to their original owners.
Over 200 Palauan families are affected as their government-issued land leases where their dwellings have sat upon most of their lives have been revoked. Displacements occur due to a variety of factors including the successful return of public and private land claims and property acquisitions by third parties, usually by foreign nationals.
Most of the affected families are struggling to move to new dwellings without any financial means to do so. The displacement has become increasingly problematic and is seen particularly throughout Koror, where more than 60 percent of the population live.
Even with low-interest loan assistance for home construction from the Palau government, via the Taiwan government, there’s no land available to access the funding.
According to the 2016 housing displacement report, Palauan residents facing evictions are unable to find affordable alternative housing due to limited availability and inappropriate strategies for urban planning.
In one residential area in Koror alone, over 40 families became the latest to face evictions when the lease issuer, Koror State Public Land Authority, lost its appeal in court which upheld a decision to return a clan property to the original landowner.
President Tommy E. Remengesau has established an ad hoc task force to address issues surrounding the return of public lands. The task force which has been meeting since May is understood to have presented its recommendations to the president for his consideration. However, no information has been released on the recommended actions by the committee.
The task force has met with original landowners and the lease holders “to understand more of their needs and come up with immediate resolution that is objective and able to meet the pleas of both the new landowner and existing lessees or household owners in such lands.”
If the comments made on various public meetings and radio programs were any indication, the two most popular options are to allow the existing lease agreements to continue until expiration dates and for the government to take over the land by paying off the landowners the value of their lands. The task force has until early this month to submit its final report.
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