Wed | Jun 3, 2020

What to do with UK deportees

Published:Tuesday | November 23, 2010 | 12:00 AM

The Editor, Sir:

The first and most enduring duppy story I learned in my childhood came from the pages of a history book at school. It said that the abolition of slavery was due to the efforts of people like Wilberforce whose oratory melted the hearts of British parliamentarians. It was not until much later that a young Trinidadian scholar - Eric Williams - no doubt refusing to believe that a favour could be granted without reciprocal benefits, provided empirical evidence that the abolition was a business decision.

As slaves, for 300 years, our forefathers made a significant contribution to the Britain we know today. But it did not stop there. The minister of the Cragley Heath Baptist Church in 1837, was the first Afro-Caribbean minister in Britain. He was a Jamaican. Robert Wedderburn, a Unitarian and radical anti-slavery antagonist was a Jamaican. Mary Seacole became known world-wide for her activities as a nurse. These are some of the Jamaicans who started to make a significant impact on British society from the 19th century.

During World War I, Jamaican workers were among those used in the munitions factories. During World War II, they were to be found working in the Liverpool area because they were acknowledged to be better skilled workers than the local black British. The Jamaican poet and communist activist, Claude McKay, went to England after WWI and became the first black British journalist. Another Jamaican poet, James Berry, preceded writers like Lamming and Braithwaite of Barbados and James and Selvon of Trinidad.

After the wars, it was the British government that encouraged mass immigration to fill shortfalls in the labour market. In 1948, the British Naturalisation Act gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries with full rights of entry and settlement. The attitude of the British changed from time to time, depending on their economic fortunes, and, by 1962, new laws were being passed to limit immigration. A recession followed and, as jobs became scarce, crimes increased. A disproportionate number of blacks were convicted. Then there were riots and the ensuing investigations revealed discrimination and deprivation of blacks to be at the root of the troubles. Any of your readers brave enough the acquire a copy of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses will see a brief comment about Mary Seacole on page 292. It brings into sharp focus the way we are treated when we are no longer needed, or when we are beneficiaries instead of contributors.

The 2001 British census revealed that there were 146,401 Jamaicans living in Britain - more than the total of 114,172 from all the other Caribbean territories combined. What the recent discussions have missed is that there are Jamaicans making sterling contributions to British society in virtually every field. It now seems that while Britain - now rich from centuries of exploitation and still benefiting from thousands of good, skilful, productive Jamaicans, they want to send the not-so-good ones back to us, who have still not found the formula for sustained development. Security Minister Nelson says there is nowhere to put them. What about their homes, Sir?

Can we afford not to?

Over the years, I have been in a position to see the devastating effects of the incarceration of Jamaicans - most of them breadwinners - for unconscionably long periods in foreign prisons. I have seen families disintegrate in less than a year, as young children find themselves without shelter, food or guidance. Promising 14-year-old students becoming mothers, boys forced to join gangs and do things that make them puke after each event. One should not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jamaicans in jail there are not crazed killers, but victims, in one way or another, of bad governance in their homeland. They were carrying drugs. This is what people who are living on the margins are forced to do! It is not whether we can afford to take them, Minister Nelson. It is whether we can afford not to. The absence of these persons is contributing greatly to crime and the failure of our children, both in school and in life.

British Prime Minister Cameron has promised to talk to our Mr Golding. But I think it is Mr Golding who should jump on the first available vehicle heading in the direction of England, and do whatever is necessary to have these persons reunited with what is left of their families.

I am, etc.,


Stony Hill

Kingston 9