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Just how small the world is and how events in one place can impact what happens in another place was recently highlighted by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Barbados was not directly touched by these destructive weather systems but we did see the economic fallout. The cruise tourism business has already been affected, many would-be visitors from outside the region are unsure which islands have been left intact, while some residents of Dominica and Barbuda would rather make another territory their new homeland.
It is another example of people on the move, even if not forcibly.
This year has seen an upsurge in the movement of people across the world either because of ethnic cleansing, tribal warfare, or internal unrest. Thankfully, we in the English-speaking Caribbean live in a region where there has been no mass exodus. The nearest we have come to such unfortunate situations has been in Venezuela, where in recent times, thousands have fled that oil-rich nation for Colombia, Miami and Canada and also Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
Thirty-seven years ago the Mariel boatlift was another mass movement of people in this region, when thousands fled Cuba.
In the Caribbean we move primarily for economic reasons and sometimes to follow and or secure a partner.
This is why we see a number of Jamaicans moving south when traditionally their sights have always been set northwards; we have seen thousands of Guyanese flocking to almost every country within the region. For a very long time Vincentians and St Lucians have moved through the region. Trinidad and Tobago with its multi-cultural society has become a true melting pot for Caribbean people, Barbados to a lesser extent.
Unfortunately, many Barbadians do not readily accept their brothers and sisters from this region and have rebuked them for seeking a better life on this little rock. Yes, it is also true that many non-nationals do not speak favourably about Barbados or Bajans. So, there is a sense of joy when the Immigration Department carries out a round-up of non-nationals, especially Guyanese, in the area of the Fairchild Street bus terminal on any given Friday night.
Yet, we have been harsh in condemnation of Presidents Barack Obama and now Donald Trump and their administrations for going after Bajans and many other nationals from the English-speaking Caribbean living illegally in United States.
But this denunciation of such action is nothing new. In the late 1960s when British Conservative politician Enoch Powell made the so called Rivers of Blood speech, delivered in Birmingham, he was called out for his crude and racist approach at trying to make it seem as if Great Britain would be overrun by black people from the former colonies in the Caribbean and Africa.
Today we see it as a moral injustice by the far-right parties in Britain and Europe, as well as that controversial immigration policy adopted by Australia, to do their best to keep out genuine refugees making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean or Asian seas. We should all be against turning back these refugees.
The truth is that for many of us in the Caribbean, this matter of embracing our neighbours looking for a better life are really non-issues. Our focus is primarily about lifestyle – cheap flights or a shopping splurge.
We are least worried that so many of the asylum-seekers across the world are black people, like the majority of Barbados’ population or members of the English-speaking Caribbean. They are fleeing oppression whether in Libya or Sudan or South Sudan or from Eritrea, or dark-skinned Rohingya Muslims being forced out of Myanmar.
The fact that world’s biggest refugee camps are not in Europe or even in Nauru and Papua New Guinea but in Uganda, Kenya, Jordan, Tanzania and Gaza is of little interest. In a world where more Barbadians will seek to live and work in once seemingly distant parts of the world, we must display a different attitude to these matters.
Just like the technological innovation so rapidly changing the world, so too has the global immigration revolution. Just look at the Chinese and Indian presence worldwide. The same way we want to go to New Zealand, Sweden or Canada as “newcomers” we need to understand that the people from across the Caribbean who are looking for a better way of life and see such an opportunity in Bimshire will grasp at it.
We must be compassionate.