Dear Barbados Free Press:
I will just state for the record that my job involves extensive travel throughout the Eastern Caribbean and I have been in the same job for over 11 years. Let me also state that I am for managed migration, however, I must admit that I have a soft spot for my Caribbean brothers and sisters having made genuine friends in all the EC countries that I visited, so much so I have the choice to stay at a friend’s home as opposed to a hotel when I visit my neighbours. Similarly I entertain at least 8 of my EC mates or their family every year for a week at a time.
Prime Minister Thompson’s announcement of am amnesty for all Undocumented CARICOM Nationals (I do not subscribe to the view that a human should ever be referred to as ILLEGAL) has not gone down well in any of the Caribbean countries I have visited since May 15th. Bajans have come in for a tongue lashing from all walks of the EC’s society – e.g. the taxi driver, the home helper, the call in programs, the politicians, the business people and others. I have found myself on the receiving end more often than not and I am beginning to sense that a dislike for Bajans like me and you is rapidly brewing and it genuinely concerns me.
In a nutshell I am hearing from OUTSIDE OF BARBADOS that the backlash is rooted in the following –
1. The amnesty sets unrealistic requirements. A radio call in host in St. Lucia noted that PM Thomson’s conditions (I suspect with time spent in Barbados) would disqualify more than 90% of Undocumented Immigrants here in Barbados. Therefore it is being suggested that PM Thompson’s amnesty was never intended to facilitate the Undocumented Immigrant to regularize his/ her stay in Barbados, rather it is believed by the wider Caribbean that it is more so intended to justify the mass deportation of Undocumented CARICOM Nationals come January 1, 2010.
2. Barbados and Bajans encouraged many of these same very Undocumented Immigrants to come to Barbados to work over the last 16 years. As a result some of Guyana’s and St, Vincent’s most talented artisans left their home for greener pastures in our then booming construction sector; additionally others were readily employed by our middle and upper classes as maids and gardeners. How often you were at a cocktail party in the late 90s and the work ethic or roti making skills of the Guyanese maid was being praised? Others came to our shores as plantation workers while others were recruited as sex workers. However, now that the party is over these Undocumented guest of ours are expected to drop everything – including chattel and family and jump on the next plane home.
3. The politicians, especially the PMs of St. Vincent and Guyana, are stirring up the flames of anti-Bajan sentiment in their respective countries. I have little doubt that such a move is meant to distract from their impoverished economies, respectively.
4. A middle class Grenadian business man reminded me in no uncertain terms that Barbados depends on her CARICOM neighbours for almost 60% of our exports. And how we are ungrateful “sycophants”. And if we don’t watch it our exports were going to suffer. He and others were of the opinion that we should go easy on our CARICOM brothers/ sisters because our manufacturing sector could not survive without CARICOM.
5. A St. Lucian taxi driver reminded me that CO Williams Construction, SAGICOR and Almond Resorts St. Lucia were Barbadian companies who were making lots of money in St. Lucia while there were no St. Lucian companies of note that were allowed to exist in Barbados. Again he thought that PM Thompson was undermining and taking for granted the good bilateral relationship that existed between St. Lucia and Barbados for years by announcing “such a callous immigration policy”.
6. The Caribbean media have reported the Gestapo like raids on undocumented immigrants quoting individuals who stated that they were awoken in the middle of the night by Sergeant PC Brooms and a very caustic immigration officer not caring what was to happen to their belongings once they were escorted off the premises.
7. Many are accusing us as being short sighted pointing out that in the early half of the 20th century Bajans travelled without restrictions throughout the Caribbean in search of gainful employment.
PLEASE DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER / OBSERVER.
If we don’t bring a more realistic and human face to dealing with our Undocumented CARICOM neighbours Barbados could face a serious irreversible and potentially economically crippling backlash.
I would be first to admit that I have a vested interest in Barbados being perceived as being a kinder and gentler nation. My livelihood in intricately connected to doing business with our Eastern Caribbean neighbours, however, I must point out that if I fail to meet my targets over 30 Bajans could be on the bread line adding to the drain on our social security services. While my failure will in turn affect over 100 persons (including immediate family members), however, with my limited knowledge I can see our recently announced immigration policy resulting in:
1. Possibly 1000s of Bajan manufacturing jobs being threatened
2. A reduced number of CARICOM nationals choosing Barbados as their holiday/ shopping destination
3. Reduced opportunity for our professionals – e.g. accountants, quantity surveyors, engineers, lawyers, pilots – getting jobs in the Eastern Caribbean
4. Reduced business opportunities for our companies and businesses in the Eastern Caribbean. Right now the Williams group of companies have recently completed a water desalination plant in St. Kitts.
5. Reduced number of CARICOM nationals travelling to Barbados for Crop Over/ Jazz Festival/ Cricket/ etc.
6. Reduced number of EC Governments paying for their nationals to come to Barbados for medical test and care
7. Reduced number of EC countries coming to our rescue in the face of a national disaster/ crisis – e.g. hurricane, tsunami, social disturbance (Prison riots)
8. Our fishermen may be increasingly harassed if they ventured into the territorial waters of our increasingly unfriendly CARICOM neighbours.
9. We may no longer be a hub for air transport into the EC.
10. Our nominees for UN/ OAS/ FAO/ PAHO/ CCJ and other appointments may no longer be guaranteed the support of the EC
11. UWI Cave Hill may see less and less EC nationals entering its doors.
12. Our regional companies – Goddards and Cave Shepherds – may find it increasingly difficult to do business in the EC
I was once told for every action one should always be prepared for an equal and opposite reaction. I do think that most Bajans supporting PM Thompson’s immigration policy are unaware of the possible consequences of the reactions by our EC neighbours who rightly or wrongly feel hurt that a CARICOM brother/ sister in Barbados would devise a policy that on the surface, at least, seems inhumane and unjust.
A Very Concerned Bajan