By Pacific Island Times News Staff
U.S. lawmakers today called on the Peace Corps office to revive the mission across the Pacific islands, particularly the freely associated states, citing the need to beef up U.S. presence in the region.
Peace Corps used to run programs in 13 Pacific islands beginning in the 1960s.
Today, the only four remaining programs in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu have been put on a freeze since early 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lawmakers welcomed the U.S. government's plan to revive the suspended Peace Corps program in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, and reactivate the one in the Solomon Islands, which has been dormant for many years.
"The current absence of the Peace Corps programs in the Freely Associated States is therefore concerning," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Carol Spahn, acting director of Peace Corps.
Since 1966, more than 4,500 volunteers have served in the FSM, Marshall Islands and Palau. But by 2018, programs in each country were closed.
"At a time when we are looking to deepen our partnerships with and strengthen the resilience of these countries, we urge Peace Corps to re-evaluate the decision to shutter its programs in these three countries," the lawmakers said.
The letter was signed by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia), Reps. Uifa’atali Amata (American Samoa), Ed Case (HI-01), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Thomas R. Suozzi (NY-03), Dina Titus (NV-01), John Garamendi (CA-03), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (CNMI), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (American Samoa).
"As the Biden administration’s February 2022 U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy recognizes, 'the passage of time has underscored the strategic necessity of the United States’ consistent role' in the region," they said.
"We could not agree more. In the strategy, the administration pledged to focus on 'every corner of the region,' including the Pacific islands. We believe the Peace Corps must be an integral part of the administration’s efforts to 'anchor the United States in the Indo-Pacific and strengthen the region itself,'" they added.
“The renewal of and return to in-person programs can be a starting point for greater Peace Corps presence in the Pacific islands, which promotes a strong, vibrant, and resilient region," the legislators said.
They noted that Peace Corps volunteers play a key role in strengthening the people-to-people ties between the U.S. and their host countries.
“As a former Peace Corps employee, and parent of a former Peace Corps volunteer, I’ve seen firsthand that the Peace Corps makes a difference for people, and I support the establishment of the Peace Corps in more Pacific locations,” Amata said.
The lawmakers said Pacific island countries are at high risk for some of the most extreme impacts of climate change.
“We are confident that restoring programs in each of the Freely Associated States will be to the benefit of volunteers, host governments, and the common cause of building communities that are resilient to the challenges we collectively face,” they said.