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The diaspora offers more than remittances

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Tue Dec 18, 2012

EDITOR: December 17, 2012…The Christmas season is here once again and most citizens in the Caribbean diaspora would, creatively, squeeze out extra cash to send, or buy gift items for loved ones in their respective countries of birth. {{more}}Admittedly, the recipients of such generosity will smile from ear to ear, in appreciation of the gratitude shown by their loved ones. Notwithstanding the socio-economic impact of such benevolent exchanges between family members across geographical borders, however, with many of the beneficiaries being the elderly, we must embrace the irrefutable fact that the diaspora has significantly much more to offer than mere remittances.

The concept of Diaspora is often credited to the dispersion of the Jewish population after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 135 AD. However, the movement and displacement of people across the earth is an ancient custom. The push and pull factors, historically, have included famine, war, enslavement, natural disasters, and more contemporary realities, such as demand for human resources driven by economic expansion, or boom in some cases, in many democratic societies.

Undeniably, the Caribbean diaspora has engendered a mutually beneficial relationship for Caribbean (source) countries and destination countries, such as Canada, USA or the UK – England. This south-north migration emerged when a British government-owned ship bearing the name “Operation Wind Rush” set sail in 1948 from the Caribbean, destined for Tilbury, Britain. Operation Wind Rush, now synonymous with post colonisation Caribbean migration, was spurred by Britain’s demand for workers to sustain a reconstruction boom in the UK following the early 1940s (WW2) German-Euro conflict. Since June 22nd, 1948, Caribbean migrants have become a vital part of British society and contributed immensely to the transformation of various aspects of British life.

Similarly, intra-regional migration has led to socio-economic transformation across the Caribbean. From construction of the Panama Canal, gold rush in Guyana, oil boom in Trinidad and Tobago and, more recently, tourism driven economic/infrastructural activity in Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, Turks and Caicos, and the Virgin Islands, to name a few. Notwithstanding the abundance of tangible, historical evidence, however, many still struggle with insular views about intra-regional migration. Admittedly, concerns about ostracising home-grown populations are merited. We cannot alienate our nationals in the name of economic development. But the crux of this matter ought to be a preparation of our nationals to effectively meet human resource demands throughout the region.

Intra-regional migration should be viewed as an advantage for our region and not as a threat to economic development for the destination country. Any objective observation of the demographics shows that Caribbean nationals who choose to reside in another part of our region are more likely to support local businesses, and generally, contribute explicitly to the development of the country in which they reside, in a multiplicity of disciplines. Some of these include, but are not limited to, real estate and construction, national security, communications, health, finance, hospitality, agriculture, transportation and a range of other skills and services. Most expatriates from other parts of the Caribbean, very often, reinvest the larger percentage of their annual earnings in the destination country, their home away from home. Arguably, the monetary benefits of these services to the destination country far exceed the capital flight to source countries in the region.

This Christmas season, is not without conflict in many countries across the globe. From the gridlock in the US Congress and the impending fiscal cliff debate, along with the gruesome shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, to leadership and economic crises in Syria, Egypt and Greece should remind us of our serene and politically stable Caribbean. In 2013, we should embrace our cultural diversity as a people to advance our economic status. To God be the glory this holiday season and may we stimulate informed discussions and actions in the New Year to move forward as one people with one aim: to advance sustainable development and livelihood for us as a people, regardless of nationality.

Season’s Greetings and a prosperous 2013.

Sean Rose

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