Are Guyanese welcome in Barbados?
Hardly a day passes on Barbadian talk shows without some reference to Guyanese migrants in Barbados.
Most of the comment is disapproving, with many callers, at their mildest, saying the island is too small to accommodate the new immigrants.
The Barbados government welcomes the Guyanese.
It says that the country needs to import labour to work in agriculture and construction, where there is a race to ensure that projects for the 2007 cricket world cup are completed on time.
"If it were not for Guyanese labourers in this country doing work that Barbadians no longer seem to want to do, agriculture would have collapsed." Prime Minister Owen Arthur is fond of saying.
But his views are not shared by everyone.
“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,” a man in his 20s told BBC Caribbean Magazine.
“We’ll soon start talking like them because there are too many here,” said a woman in her 40s.
While some hide behind numbers, others cite alleged Guyanese involvement in crime, particularly drugs and prostitution to support their case.
But there may be another reason as well - race.
“I think that a lot of (anti-Guyanese) utterances is being driven in the minds of people that Barbados is being overrun by non-nationals, particularly Guyanese and more specifically east Indian Guyanese,” said minister of state for immigration, Joseph Atherley.
Some Indo-Guyanese support the minister’s remarks.
“There is discrimination against Guyanese of all ethnic groups but this anti-Indian feeling seems be more pronounced and prominent,” said a worshipper at a Hindu temple near Bridgetown, who said he been coming to Barbados for 15 years.
Mr. Atherley said that while there the numbers of people of Indian descent resident in Barbados appeared to be on the increase, the fear of their presence was not backed by the facts.
He suggested that Barbadians were double-counting Guyanese immigrants because many of them were on short-term working contracts.
Figures published earlier this year show that more than 5,000 Guyanese have permanent or regularised status in Barbados, and another 3,000 or so have temporary work or study permits.
However, the government admits it doesn’t know how many are in Barbados illegally.
Guyanese top the list of foreign nationals deported from Barbados, according to the most recent statistics. But not by much.
Of the 68 people from 14 nations expelled for the first half of this year, 24 were from Guyana, followed by 20 from Jamaica.
Election campaign issue
The Guyanese migration issue appears likely to feature during the next general election campaign in Barbados.
Opposition Leader David Thompson called for a managed migration policy that reflects national needs during a speech at the party’s annual conference at the end of August.
“It is not a question of xenophobia or jealousy,” Thompson said.
He added that the DLP, should it regain power, would renegotiate the free movement of people provisions in the CSME, the Caribbean single market and economy.
Many Barbadians clearly feel that the fledgling single market will open up immigration even more.
This has made Mr Arthur, who is overseeing the implementation of the CSME, a focal point of the debate.
He may have his critics but he can count on the backing of many Barbadians as well.
“I have no problem with the Guyanese who are genuine and want to make a living here,” a woman in her 50s told BBC Caribbean.
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