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Tokelau profile

Map of Tokelau

Three far-flung coral atolls – Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo – make up Tokelau, a Polynesian territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific.

Lying between New Zealand and Hawaii, Tokelau has few physical links with the wider world. There is no airport and it takes more than a day at sea to reach its southern neighbour, Samoa.

Most of the 1,500 islanders live by subsistence farming. Thousands have chosen to leave, usually for New Zealand or Samoa. The latter has a similar culture and language.

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Emigrants from other Polynesian islands were the first settlers

The UN has earmarked Tokelau as one of a number of territories where it wants to encourage greater independence. However, Tokelauans have now twice voted to retain their colonial status rather than take on greater autonomy. The territory rejected self-rule in two separate referendums in 2006 and 2007.

Tokelau has few resources apart from its fishing grounds, but makes some money from the sale of fishing rights and the use of its internet domain. New Zealand provides around 80% of the territory’s budget and has tried to allay fears that it will abandon the atolls should Tokelau become autonomous.

Emigrants from other Polynesian islands were the first settlers. Nineteenth-century whalers and missionaries were among the first European visitors to Tokelau, formerly known as the Union Islands.

The atolls became a British protectorate in the late 19th century and for a time were part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. New Zealand administered Tokelau from 1926.

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Tokelau has few physical links with the wider world, it has no airport or port and all passengers and goods have to be brought ashore on barges

Like other low-lying Pacific territories, Tokelau is said to be at risk from rising sea levels. It is also vulnerable to tropical cyclones.

In 2009 Tokelau – which had previously been totally dependent on the use of imported diesel for electricity generation – announced its ambition to become completely energy self-sufficient.

In November 2012, New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister that Tokelau had achieved its renewable energy goal with the completion of a $7m (£4.3m) solar power project. The project coordinator described the development as “a milestone of huge importance” for Tokelau and said it meant that the territory would now be able to spend more on social welfare.

At the end of 2011, Tokelau – together with its Pacific neighbour Samoa – took a radical step to improve regional trade links by “skipping” a day and jumping westward across the international dateline to bring it closer in time to its main trade partners Australia and New Zealand.

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