Caribbean migration problems

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Sep. 29 – With the exception of those pictures of Haitians in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels trying to reach places like The Bahamas and the United States, the image of the Caribbean is usually not one that portrays people from poor developing countries desperately trying to scratch out a living among the scattered islands.

Rather, it has always been one of postcard beauty with white sands, clear crystal water beaches and coconut trees swaying away in the distance. But Stelios Christopoulos, the charge d’ affairs at the European Union delegation in Trinidad and Tobago, noted this week that the Caribbean has “continued to attract large numbers” of undocumented migrants from poorer countries.

“Today, everybody understands the need for managed migration, which is reflected in the growing number of meetings as well as increasing time allocation in international and intra-regional meetings to discuss strategies to respond to the challenges of migration,” Christopoulos said.

The EU official acknowledged that analysis of Caribbean migration patterns is hampered by the lack of reliable data, and welcomed a pilot project involving 12 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping that is aimed helping national and regional institutions in the collection, management and analysis of migration data for the development of appropriate policies.

“This is why I think the ACP Observatory on Migration is important,” he told delegates from ACP countries attending the ACP Observatory on Migration workshop that ends here on Friday. “It will help to improve data collection in the Caribbean and therefore guide policy strategies,” he added.

The ACP Observatory on Migration is an initiative of the ACP Secretariat that is being implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a consortium with 15 partners and funded by the European Union.

The director of the ACP Observatory on Migration, Laurent De Boeck, said that the “trainings provide data collection mechanisms on migration issues that are increasingly affecting pilot countries and regions”.

“Data collection is an essential process for the development of comprehensive policies in ACP countries,” he added.

The project is designed to produce data on South-South ACP migration for migrants, civil society and policy makers and to enhance the research capacities of ACP countries for improvement of the migrants’ situation and the strengthening of the migration-development nexus.

Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti are the only two Caribbean countries engaged in the pilot programme. The others are Angola, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Timor-Leste and Tanzania.

Similar workshops have already been held in Senegal and Timor Leste, and the organizers said the training will focus on labour migration, irregular migration, gender and human rights.

Jennifer Boucard-Blake, the permanent secretary at the ministry of national security here, said that by agreeing to host the international workshop, Port of Spain has signaled its desire to be an effective partner in dealing with the many issues surrounding migration, which she noted is “a phenomenon that affects every region of the world”.

“Interestingly enough, experts in this field have observed that there are fewer international migrants moving from developing to developed countries than those who move from one developing country to another – that is, South-South,” she said.

She said that data collected through proper migration management can reveal the positive and negative aspects of migration.

“Migrants have the ability to make economies grow and can contribute to human development in both home and host countries. They can enrich societies through the promotion of cultural diversity, the fostering of understanding and respect among peoples.

“On the other hand, migrant data can also reveal the extent to which migration, irregular or otherwise, impacts on society. Migrants can place unnecessary pressure on key services such as schools, health and transport,” she added.

Christopoulos also referenced the brain drain aspect of migration.

“Many countries suffer tremendous constraints in their capacities to provide equal, qualitative and affordable social services to their populations. They also suffer from a big gap between wealth and development. It is estimated that around 70 percent of the migrants from the Caribbean to OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) are tertiary education graduates,” he said.

Even as the Caribbean grouping CARICOM is moving to implement its Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) that will be characterised by the free movement of goods, skills, services and labour, only free movement of labor, such as university graduates, artists, musicians, media workers and athletes, has been implemented thus far by most of the 15-member states.

Research has shown that emigration from the Caribbean occurred in two waves, with the first starting during the post-World War Two economic boom resulting in labour shortages for skilled and semi-skilled jobs in Western countries.

The second wave that occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s was as a result of an increase in the demand for service workers and professionals in North America as well as a social decline in Caribbean countries.

Despite very little data being available on the inflows and outflows from Caribbean countries, Christopoulos said, “What we do know, however, (is that) the Caribbean has one of the largest diasporic communities in the world, in proportion to the population.”

The top labor-exporting countries are Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana, with EU statistics indicating that migration from the Caribbean is mainly toward the United States, Canada and Britain.

Figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that remittances as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comprise 13 percent, making the region the world’s largest recipient of remittances as a percentage of GDP.