What to Do if a Coup Occurs While You're in Fiji

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Fiji has a reputation for frequent coups d’etat – four in the last 30 years. While the country seems relaxed, this is what you need to know about political tension and civil unrest in Fiji.

Aerial view of harbor in Lautoka, Fiji Photo © Getty Images/Westend61

If you'd been on one of the Fijian islands or at a resort during the 2006 military takeover, you may not have noticed anything going on – it was all very genteel and bureaucratic. Behind the scenes it was a more dangerous game for the main players. Only in Suva would visitors have seen some saber rattling from the military.

All Fijians, from hotel janitors to whoever-happens-to-be-in charge-at-the-moment, know that tourism is the lifeblood of their nation – this is a lesson learned from previous coups.

Coups in Fiji

The 1987 coups (really one long coup with a quiet bit in the middle) smashed the tourism reputation and resulted in substantial emigration of the Indo-Fijian population – the economic effects and skilled labor shortages are still being felt.

The 2000 coup, when George Speight and his gang took the Prime Minister and other MPs hostage, resulted in more than 100 businesses being torched in Suva and sparked weeks of ethnic tension across the country. Holidaymakers were trapped in their hotels fearing an all-out civil war. Australian and New Zealand warships stood offshore ready to evacuate them. The effect on the economy was devastating: 7,500 jobs were lost, so was Fiji's reputation as a safe holiday destination.

Human rights watch group A World In Trouble measures the risk of Fiji having another coup as "moderate" with a "moderate" risk of conflict.

How does a coup in Fiji affect me?

Right now, Fiji is in a stable political condition. However, there's increasing international pressure on the Fiji government to return to full democracy. That includes diplomatic pressure and economic pressure; foreign aid has been suspended, inter-governmental assistance has stopped, and that's putting pressure on Fiji's economy.

The local people has suffered this for a few years, and now it's starting to become obvious to visitors. It's showing up in poor levels of infrastructure and roads which are not being repaired.

A skilled labor shortage; workers are leaving for better conditions and pay in Australia and New Zealand.

If you need emergency police response, they may not turn up because they don't have petrol for the police car.

Public servants are poorly paid with little prospect of that changing soon, even though prices are rising and shortages more common, so service levels are falling.

And as poverty rises, so does crime, especially petty theft and stealing from the relatively wealthy tourists.

Crime in Fiji

Fiji is a mostly safe place to travel, but theft can occur. It's not safe to walk around Fiji at night, and especially not safe on off-resort beaches when it's dark. Locals advise you should not leave valuables on the beach while you go swimming – leave your valuables locked up back in your room, and keep all doors and windows locked.

Suva can be a bit scary after dark, but in reality it's no worse than most major cities around the world. There are a few youth gangs who look out for easy targets – to make sure you're not one of them, don't carry any valuables with you out at night, don't wear flashy jewelry, don't walk down dark streets alone, don't get too intoxicated – make sensible decisions for your own safety in Fiji.

What do I do if I am stuck in a coup in Fiji?

If yo're on an island resort you might not know unless you pick up a newspaper (the beauty of a relaxing Fiji holiday). So a day or two before your departure, check with staff that there are no problems. If something has happened while you've been there, they'll get you up to speed on the situation.

It's very unlikely the inter-island ferry services will be affected. Ferries leave from Denerau Marina, which is about half an hour from Nadi airport. It's not necessary to go to Nadi to transfer from an island to the airport.

Similarly, Suva's airport is about half an hour north-east of Suva city. Inter-island connections by air don't require you to go to the city unless you need an overnight stay to connect to an international flight. In the worst case scenario, it might be advisable to bunk down at the airport for the night. It won't be comfortable, but there's no chance of running into roadblocks or conflict.

If you're in Suva when a coup happens, there are places to avoid (and places you can seek help). All of Fiji's government and parliament facilities are located in Suva. Stay away from them, especially the military barracks in the north of the city.

In the 2000 coup, ethnic tension resulted in indo-Fijian businesses being targeted, so avoid the business and shopping district in the west of Suva.

But if the worst case scenario happens and there are running battles on the street, stay in your hotel room, follow the instructions of staff and make contact with your family.

Also make contact with your government though the Embassy or High Commission. Let them know where you are so they can arrange evacuation.

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  • Loanemu said

    You make great use of your words in this article. I am impressed with the valid points of interest you make here and I agree.

  • Saini Tawa Ilimotama said

    Having difficulty in transferring my benefits to Fiji Westpac Bank so I can pay my plane ticket back to Australia.

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