“Barbadian first” policy flogs Guyanese in Barbados

The unraveling of political ties between the Caribbean nations of Guyana and Barbados has created heated dialogue after the compulsory deportation of Guyanese nationals from Barbados following the implementation of the “Barbadian First” amnesty law announced by the island’s Prime Minister David Thompson May 5. This amnesty measure resulted in the deportation of Guyanese to resolve the professed rising crime rates and poverty epidemic in Barbados. The 30th Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which took place in Guyana’s capital of Georgetown at the beginning of the month, was originally slated to be the arena for finding a reasonable solution to Barbados’ steadily worsening social problems. For a number of years, a struggling economy and persisting racial tensions in Guyana has led to extensive job loss, a decreased standard of living, and continuous uncertainty in the minds of the Guyanese population.

When it comes to uncertainty, there should be none regarding the long time lack of good governance in Guyana ever since the Jagans were replaced by Bharrat Jagdeo after the regrettable passing of that great husband-and-wife team from the scene. Speaking about bad government, Barbados now finds that there is so much of it in Guyana that the consequences of it are transferred by Jagdeo to Thompson in Barbados, with every desperate Guyanan trying to make it to Bridgetown.

Its restlessness which has driven thousands of Guyanese to flee the country and head for CARICOM member Barbados, an island nation that has many more employment opportunities than Guyana and has experienced strong economic growth, creating what has been seen as an oasis of opportunity for fleeing migrants.

Terms of Amnesty in Barbados
Barbados formally enacted its amnesty provision on June 1. This provision dictated that all illegal CARICOM aliens who had been residing in Barbados prior to December 31, 1998 must normalize their status of residency within 6 months (starting June 1) or face deportation; any arriving after the 1998 date would be subject to immediate expulsion. This new law was the product of the Cabinet Subcommittee on Immigration that met in 2008 in Barbados. It decided that the flood of illegal immigrants was harmful to Barbadian society. The parameters of the legislation were broken down into a series of requirements. First, the individual needs to have been a resident of Barbados prior to December 31, 1998 and has to have lived in the country since December 31, 2005. Secondly, the individual needs to have proof of employment in Barbados and must have gone through a thorough background and security check. Lastly, the legislation stipulates that if an individual has three or more dependents, they will not qualify for automatic status. Failure to meet the criteria will result in immediate removal from Barbados.

Testy Guyanese-Barbadian Relations
The controversy between the local Guyanese population and Barbadian officials surrounds the large number of Guyanese immigrants facing deportation from Barbados due to the new amnesty law. Stabroek News reported that since the law was put into effect, 53 Guyanese immigrants have been removed from the country. As there are an estimated 34,000 Guyanese living on the island, the alarmingly high number of deportees has aroused concerns that the law specifically discriminates against Guyanese residents in Barbados.

The amnesty law raises serious questions pertaining to the place of origin, as the law only applies to alleged illegal immigrants from CARICOM countries. The newly enacted legislation also fails to regulate European residents who prolong their stay after supposedly entering the island for brief beach vacations. In the case of the Guyanese dwelling in Barbados, many do not meet the amnesty requirements and will be forced to leave, according to Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Barbados.

Soon after the amnesty law was first implemented, Guyanese sources charged that violations of privacy were committed as Barbadian immigration officials, in pre-dawn raids, entered the homes of suspected aliens between 3am and 6am. Guyanese residents accused the Barbadian officials’ that their unruly actions were motivated by racial factors singling out the growing Guyanese population on the island. Other offensive actions have included the looting of possessions of deported Guyanese, as well as bounties placed on the heads of Guyanese aliens turned over to the Barbadian immigration authorities. In addition, Barbadian officials were charged with the poor treatment of foreign nationals, which included designation of specific benches for Guyanese in the Barbados airport in an effort to single out illegal Guyanese refugees.

The clash between Guyana and Barbados has been ongoing for the past decade. At the time of the establishment of CARICOM in 1973, Guyana was expected to be at the forefront of the organization, as it was labeled the breadbasket of the Caribbean. However, poor economic management and failure to reap the advantages of the country’s numerous resources have prevented Guyana from achieving its lofty expectations. Presently, Barbados has become a leader in the CARICOM community, yet many countries in the Caribbean such as St. Lucia, St. Vincent, The Grenadines and Guyana have become frustrated over the issue of Barbadian leadership creating a rift in the multi-lateral relations of CARICOM.

CARICOM Conference Letdown
The building tensions which led up to the conference seemed to indicate that serious actions would result from the four day conference, but in fact, the meeting failed to yield any immediate positive results on the immigration hullabaloo. The lone accomplishment of the conference was that Prime Minister David Thompson agreed to investigate the weighty claims made by Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo.

Barbadian Mentality
Thompson responded to critics by stating that the amnesty law has in no way been deliberately directed against Guyanese but that Guyanese are affected the most as they make up the majority of illegal aliens in the country. The Barbadian Prime Minister also reacted to local reports stating that only 4 Guyanese had been forcibly removed from the country and of those who had been removed, none have received the required deportation stamp on their passport. Since the enactment of Thompson’s “Barbadian First” policy, the island has received criticism from abroad alleging that the amnesty law is the continuation of his alleged homogeneity strategy.

Most Barbadians are in complete support of the new legislation as they feel that much of the reported crime and poverty plaguing the country is caused by illegal immigrants. However, they are in disagreement over the proper handling of the situation in reference to the pre-dawn raids. The general consensus among Barbadians appear to be that “Barbados is getting over-populated with Guyanese and if we allow them to keep coming into our country like this, we’re going to have problems in the next three years.” The Barbadian population has stated unequivocally that the law does not violate the aim of integration within CARICOM but rather that it is the right of their sovereign nation to make their own immigration laws.

Importance of the Guyanese in Barbados
Critics charge that Bajans (native Barbadians) have failed to recognize the importance of the Guyanese to the Barbadian economy in providing inexpensive labor. In a 2006 BBC interview, with then-Barbadian Prime Minister Owen Arthur, he stated the magnitude of Guyanese labor in the country resulted in the successful hosting of the World Cricket Cup in 2007. Their defenders say it should be noted that these unwanted immigrants are tackling the jobs that the Bajans feel are beneath themselves, doing necessary labor-intensive tasks which allow the Bajan economy to function to its fullest capacity.

Underlying hatred of Barbados?
Along with Barbados, Canada and Antigua have also conducted mass deportation of Guyanese. This fact has given rise to countless observations as to why there has been an enormous amount of Guyanese criticism of the amnesty law in Barbados and less resentment against other countries. The Guyanese anger is specifically directed against Prime Minister David Thompson and has not been targeted against any other Caribbean leader. The unbalanced image this portrays could prove to be very detrimental to the Guyanese abroad.

The crackdown on immigration has been seen as an act of concern for Bajan sovereignty, yet the repercussions from these immigration offenses could eventually damage the structure of governance in Barbados and its relations within CARICOM. The actions by the governments of Barbados and Guyana have done little to alleviate the social problems of each. Some outside observers maintain that the immigration measures taken by Barbados are debatable and a compulsory reevaluation needs to be taken to review the merit of the controversial legislation.