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The SVG diaspora connection

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Any conversation about SVG and its development must include its diaspora, spread largely over the US, Canada, Britain, and the Caribbean. We mainly associate this group with remittances, which of course impact heavily on our economy and society, but they are more than that. They are an essential part of the nation and impact on just about every aspect of our life. Technology has, of course, played its part in having them engaged in what is happening in their homeland. Many of them are perhaps more ‘au fait’ with what is happening here than many of us on the ground. This is significant, for in the past they depended largely on the newspapers, which gave them their version of the truth. The ‘Magic Jack’ later created a greater bond and then social media and the availability on-line of newspapers and the ability to listen to radio and television stations and to become a part of the conversation, particularly on radio. They have become an essential part of our community and make their contribution in many ways.

I have seen 2014 figures estimating a total of 23,000 migrants in the US from SVG. This struck me, because I thought the number was larger. It is in fact smaller than Dominica with 28,000 and Grenada with 34,000. I have also seen recent data indicating that Grenada, St Kitts and SVG are the top three recipients of remittances in the OECS. More of us are beginning to be more conscious of their impact when we see the long lines at MoneyGram and Western Union. There are thousands of Vincentians who depend totally on these remittances. One aspect of this issue that needs further conversation is the impact they have on individuals and families. Have they grown so dependent on these that they divorce themselves from other concerns in the society and pretend that everything is OK?  They seem to go largely into providing basic food and clothing, paying utilities, and upkeeping those at school. I ask these questions because with economies in the host countries subjected to periodic downturns, the ability of the migrant to continue to provide becomes questionable at times. Many even undertake more than one job to enhance their ability to assist their dear ones.

I have recently heard calls, by at least one politician, for them to be allowed to vote and maybe the trend of this article seems to welcome this, but let us not jump the gun. My experience makes me extremely cautious. While studying in Canada, I was given ballots to vote for Forbes Burnham. I politely declined, emphasizing the fact that I was not Guyanese. Others, however, went along with the fraud. What mechanism can we put in place to avoid fraudulence? Besides, who will be allowed to vote? for while there are many Vincentians abroad who are deeply involved and concerned about developments in the land they call their home, there are others not so involved and in fact, not up to date on developments here.

What we have not sufficiently done is to investigate their investment potential, resources that can assist in the country’s development and provide a mechanism to tap the available human capital. Do we have a data bank of the resources available? What I am pointing to is that they are more than providers of remittances. They must be part of our conversation about politics and development; in fact, about every aspect of our society and that provision be made to tap their skills, knowledge, and experience. Let us recognize, too, that our political divisions are reproduced abroad.  This is a conversation that needs to be continued, for I have only touched the tip of the iceberg.  

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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