Deportees join together to help newcomers, overcome stigma and fight spread of drugs

This story originally appeared on the ABC’s Pacific Beat page. Original reporting by Alice Lolohea and Doug Dingwall

A group of Tongans deported from the United States is working to help rehabilitate other returnees, but they say that getting financial assistance from the Tongan government has been a slow process.

Latu Liava’a. Photo/Screenshot (ABC)

Former drug dealer Latu Liava’a joined forces with four other Tongans deported from the United States to form Dare to Dream.

Katrina Ma’u Fatiaki, who is a member of the group’s board, told the ABC’s Pacific Beat  that the founders decided to use their experiences of reintegrating into Tonga to help others in the same situation.

“From there, they really prayed about finding key agents of change, people who will be wanting to make a difference,” she said.

Members began to meet deportees when their flight landed in Nuku’alofa.

Livia said he wished such a service had been available when he returned. He said he told deportees there was nothing to be ashamed of.

Chairman of the Dare to Dream board Dr Uhilamoelangi Fasi told he ABC there was a stigma attached to the word “deportee”, or “tīpota” in Tongan.

“Automatically, people think you’re a bad person,” Dr Fasi said.

Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said the government had provided funding for organisations like Dare to Dream to support their reintegration programmes.

He also said the government established an inter-agency taskforce, led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to focus on supporting returnees in-country.

However, Dr Fasi said the group had become frustrated trying to get funding through the government and its departments, he said.

This affected its activities and meant it could not always meet people at the airport.

Members of Dare to Dream are also involved in drug education programmes in schools and say young people are vital in combatting the kingdom’s growing drug problem.

Gangsters in Paradise

In 2019 Kaniva News reported on a hard hitting documentary, Gangsters in Paradise, which investigates the lives of deportees in Tonga.

Viewers learned that most of the deportees come from the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Most of the deportees are men between 25-35 years and have usually done time for assault, robbery, burglary, theft and drug offences.

Most have lived outside Tonga for 20 years.

Many left Tonga as children or infants and have few cultural or family ties. This means they often become involved in the burgeoning drug trade to survive.

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

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