BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – POPULARLY known as the Sugar City, St. Kitts has not only been a manufacturer of the sweet crystalline substance but also the producer of many ‘sugar-daddies’, who, along with their Nevisian brothers, in the distant past, had travelled to numerous countries in the Caribbean and further afield in search of employment opportunities. While there, many of them were engaged in long and short-term relationships within which they shared the juices of their sweetness.
Today, the effects of those men’s sweetness are evidenced in the form of children and grandchildren coming home to their fathers’ land to claim their birthright. Many of these offspring were born in the Dominican Republic and some of them are residing on both islands of the Federation. There are also others from the USVI, BVI, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago as well as far south Guyana, among others.
From this backdrop, it is the writer’s intention to briefly discuss some of the misconceptions and perceptions of many nationals of the twin-island Federation in relation to immigrants seeking employment or citizenship in St. Kitts and Nevis.
Disparaging remarks on Voices
It is very disturbing and makes me livid to hear what some contributors to WINN FM Voices programme have to say about immigrants to the Federation. One regular contributor is particularly known for his xenophobic and misanthropic remarks to non-nationals. On one occasion he professed that “Spanish and Guyanese coming here and taking away our men and women”, while on a number of others he was heard saying that “foreigners are taking our jobs even though there is a world recession”.
While it is a fact that nationals from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Dominica, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and many other Caribbean countries as well as the US, Canada and England have been married to or are currently engaged in intimate relationships with nationals of the Federation, we must understand that life is all about choices.
Humans, like animals, are selective in their choice of mates. However, unlike animals, whereby the strongest or fiercest male dominates the pack, humans can only be dominated because of their choices. Therefore, no one can take away another’s spouse; the parties involved must first have to agree to a relationship.
While in discussion with a group of young people, the question of child-bearing arose and three of five women claimed that they prefer to have children with “soft hair”. I guess readers will understand what they meant by this statement. The women unanimously stated that most men in the Federation are “not the marrying kind, they run away from responsibilities and prefer to live in their mom’s home until they are old and gray”.
“Many women in St. Kitts and Nevis are single parents and they have to do more than one job to take care of the kids…because the men are not performing the role of fathers. They neglect their kids and we have to take them to court for support,” said a petite member of the group who has three children and braids hair for a living.
She added that she prefers to have a foreign national as her husband because he would share the responsibilities. However, Jane Doe* countered, “Many of them come here and fool you. They will live with you and even marry you because they want their stay. And after they get it they leave you.”
On the other hand, June Doe* disagreed with Belinda* and stated that all foreign nationals are not the same. “I live in Nevis and my husband is not from here. When we met I had two kids and after 18 months we got married and he treats all five of the kids the same way. If somebody did not know of my past, they would never believe that he is not the father of my first two kids.”
Abuse of immigrants
While it is a fact that some immigrants are illegally in the Federation, it must also be known that many of them are multi-skilled and are being abused by some employers. These employers pay them less than the minimum wage or way below the equivalent to their particular skill and refuse to pay for their work permits. Additionally, there are immigrants whose skills are much needed, especially in the construction field, but the employers force them to pay for their work permits. And should they object, the unscrupulous employers threaten them with deportation. On the other hand, many employers say that while immigrants are willing to go the extra mile by working on weekends and holidays, very few nationals would do the same.
Immigrants contribute to the Federation
It must also be noted that immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute to the Federation’s economy and also to the political, education, health, legal and law enforcement professions, among others.
Some of those immigrants who stood out as beacons of hope, role models and have left their footprints indelibly written in the sands of time in St. Kitts and Nevis are: Dominican-born Caleb Azariah Paul Southwell who was Chief Minister and Premier of St. Kitts and Nevis; Clarence Fitzroy Bryant who was born in Antigua and was the country’s Minister of Education as well as its Attorney-General; Bryant’s mother, Antiguan-born Ann Liburd, who was a women’s rights activists, community organiser of women’s affairs, three-time President of the Caribbean Women’s Association and President of the National Council of Women in St. Kitts. Among those who also contributed are Guyanese-born regional trade unionist George DePeana, who was sent by Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, late President of Guyana and friend of Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw, to assist the country with its Labour Union; Retired Captain Oscar Pollard of the Guyana Defence Force, who was instrumental in formulating the administrative aspects of the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force; Jamaican-born Dr. Barrington E.O. Brown, founder of the fish farm in Conaree which is known as the St. Kitts-Nevis Aquaculture Pilot Project and Environment Research; Resident Judge, His Lordship Francis Belle of Barbados; and the late Derrick Thompson of Guyana, who was appointed Commissioner of the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force.
Many other Guyanese had also contributed to various professions in the Federation. Among them are: the late Robert Crawford, who was a Provost Marshall and Attorney-at-Law before sitting as a magistrate; Resident Judge, His Lordship Satrohan Singh; Attorneys-at-Law Patrick Patterson of Caribbean Associated Attorneys, Arudranauth Gossai who worked in the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and Simone Bullen-Thompson who once worked as a prosecutor and now functions as a magistrate in Sandy Point; medical practitioners Dr. Robert George and Dr. Dwayne Friday who practised on Nevis and St. Kitts, respectively; Retired Chief Prison Officer Alvin Vasquez, who served for many years in the Police Force before his change in profession; Vincent Adams, former Chemistry teacher at Gingerland Secondary School; Gary Morian who taught Mathematics at Basseterre High School and was very instrumental in organising the SCIMATECH Fairs; Parikhan Ram, who taught English at the Charlestown Secondary School for many years and was denied renewal of his work permit; and not to forget the numerous cane cutters and sugar boilers from Guyana and Santo Domingo.
Nationals in foreign lands
Similarly, nationals had left the Federation to better their lives in foreign lands, where many of them have made their homes and were granted citizenship. While some of them had returned to further contribute to the development of their homeland, a vast amount is still abroad.
Among those nationals who have made a name for themselves, contributed to various professions in foreign lands and are or were not treated with disdain, are: Hazel Ross-Robinson, former Foreign Policy Adviser to Rep. William Gray, Democrat of Pennsylvania; Jennifer Bennette-Norford, who received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching at the Ulla F. Muller Elementary School in St. Thomas, USVI; Kenrick Clifton, who had won an election to become the District One Councilman of Randolph, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston; Dr. Simon Jones-Hendrickson, a professor at the UVI and resident of the USVI; Dr. Frank Mills, former Chairman of the CFBC Board of Directors, Professor of Social Sciences and Director of the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas; Caryl Phillips, an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, journalist and professor; and Justice Hugh Anthony Rawlins, Acting Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court headquartered in Saint Lucia.
According to recent statistics, 1,587 Kittitians and Nevisians have been recorded as legally residing on St. Maarten and just 1,400 in the British Virgin Islands, while the United Nations Human Development Index Report 2009 states that “Saint Kitts and Nevis has an emigration rate of 44.3%. The major continent of destination for migrants from Saint Kitts and Nevis is Northern America with 37.3% of emigrants living there”. The Report further states, “In 2007, US$37 million in remittances were sent to Saint Kitts and Nevis. Average remittances per person were US$739, compared with the average for Latin America and the Caribbean of US$114.”
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, the Hon. Mark Brantley said he is not against immigrants working and living in the Federation, but it must be on a legal basis. He also spoke of his father’s tenure in England and America.
“My father lived abroad for nearly four decades and his monthly remittances kept me and my three sisters fed and clothed. He was a black man living first in the white country of England and then later in the equally white country of America. Thank God they did not kick him out or try to exclude him from earning a living.”
Brantley declared that his father voted in both countries and “none sought to exclude him because he was from Nevis”. He further stated, “When he had spent 40 winters in foreign lands, he acquired monies to invest in his homeland. He bought land. He built a home. Indeed, so well had these foreign lands blessed him that he was able to become a founding member of the Bank of Nevis…”
On the other hand, in addressing free movement of capital and labour in the region, former Minister of National Security Dwyer Astaphan said in a commentary that there seems to come a time in the affairs of every developing country when its citizens start to develop a sense of deep concern and insecurity with regard to foreigners coming in and taking up jobs and doing business.
Two important questions posed by Astaphan are: “How can free movement of capital and labour be beneficial to these smaller islands in the prevailing conditions of the region?” And, “Is it not better to be supportive of movement, but only on a managed basis, as Barbados’ Prime Minister, David Thompson, is advocating?”
He pointed out that Antiguans, St. Lucians and Kittitians and Nevisians, like Barbadians, are developing anger and resentment over their perception that jobs and other opportunities in the lands of their birth are being taken away from them by foreigners.
“Already they are saying that politicians, having lost the goodwill of many citizens, are courting CARICOM immigrants and using them, where their numbers are critical (and it does not take a lot in a small place), in order to get, or to hold on to, power. Already many people in these smaller islands have begun to feel cheated.
“For example, Kittitians are very upset at the thought of themselves, their relatives or friends, being laid off from their jobs, or even unable to get jobs, while they see foreigners, both from CARICOM countries and beyond, ‘making a bread’ here in St. Kitts doing the same or similar jobs.”
However, the country’s Political Leader, Dr. the Hon. Denzil Douglas has a different view. At one of his monthly press conferences, Prime Minister Douglas said, “I believe in the free movement of people. We do not have the necessary capital to build our country; we have to depend on our Caribbean brothers and sisters with the necessary skills. Skilled persons of the Caribbean have a right to work here. On arrival in the Federation, you will be granted six months once you have enough money to maintain yourself while in search of a job. However, if after six months you do not find a job, Immigration will come in search of you. And as for those who are illegally in the country, we will give you the opportunity to legalise your status.”
The writer’s views
While everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, it would be remiss of the writer not to mention that although Mr. Astaphan is a born Kittitian, his ancestors were emigrants just like Mr. Leroy Coury. Are we to also forget that the owner of RAM’S, Mr. Kishu Chandiramani, is a foreign national but whose father had paved the way for him to become one of the most prosperous businessmen in the Federation who contributes to the country’s economy?
People cross borders for various reasons – better standards of living, higher incomes, opportunities, education, health, love, improved prospects for their children, and a change of climate, among others. There are also a significant number of nationals who have long seen the benefits of dual citizenship; several of them are Parliamentarians. And there is also an annual influx of young pregnant women to the United States and US territories to give birth to their children.
Contrary to Mr. Astaphan’s comments, there has always been managed migration because there are no open air and sea ports. The fact that one has to present oneself to immigration officials is in itself managed migration. If you are speaking about putting quotas on particular kinds of people or particular nationalities, this is where you have visas. So, Haitians require visas to travel to the Federation, because there is a feeling that people from that French-speaking country are desperate to escape their circumstances. What is underlying the debate in the Caribbean, however, is the concern that Guyanese and Jamaican nationals are really undesirables.
People who live in countries like St. Kitts and Nevis and enjoy a particular GDP do not have a clear sense of a country like Guyana or Jamaica, because they compare GDP and things like UNDP standards. They do not look at much else because they hardly travel to these countries; they travel to the Metropolitan countries such as the USA, Canada, USVI and the BVI because they look to get First World passports. They do not see themselves having a future in Guyana and Jamaica. Their concern is that Guyanese and Jamaicans are coming to St. Kitts and Nevis qualified, certified and ready to work, and thereby presenting unfair competition in their marketplace. They already have cultural norms and work patterns, but they are being disturbed by the presence of people who are here to ‘make ends meet’ and are willing to sacrifice to achieve their objectives.
According to recent UNDP reports, the benefits of migration include remittances, where one travels abroad and is able to save and send money for relatives and friends as well as communities at home. Another benefit is the availability of opportunities for further training and development that may not be available in one’s homeland. Additionally, one gets the chance to grow intellectually and spiritually by one’s new experiences being abroad. One would also bring to bear the influences of the societies one left behind on these places, which can in return redound to the benefit of where one comes from. In other words, if an individual goes to America, rises through the ranks and becomes an eminent person, the nation state from which he/she hails can benefit from his/her stature either by he/her making direct or indirect appeals for assistance to his/her country.
And also, too, merely by the fact that people would seek to employ more nationals from that country because of the standards of one particular individual. For example, the exploits of one Guyanese in St. Kitts would motivate employers to employ more Guyanese, and so it is with the exploits of one Kittitian or Nevisian in the USVI or BVI. This is what one calls a national reputation.
According to T. Coreentje Phipps-Benjamin, “The road to immigration is no novelty. History documents that great cities have been built with the blood, sweat, and tears of people from various cultures; unfortunately, some by force and at other times at will. The impetus that has driven many West Indians to the shores of England and the United States is not much different to that of their European or Asian counterparts. Seemingly, the thirst for an improved way of life and a desire to capitalise on opportunities unavailable at home, remain major catalysts that spur relocation overseas.”
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF’S NOTE: This article was first published approximately eight years ago, but by public demand it is republished for emphasis.
*Names used to conceal identity