Tuesday, 24 March 2009

British rule for Caribbean people

There are quite a few issues flying about my head today, and they feel related in more ways than I may be able to articulate at the moment. The first involves the state of government in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the suspension of their Constitution by the British government. The second issue has to do with the ever more alarmist ways in which the British media reports on immigration figures, and some recent immigration policy decisions being discussed here.

Amidst this recession, there is not only growing public anger directed towards those we feel should either have performed better to head off the crisis, should have warned us once an oncoming crisis was evident, or should be considerably more penitent now in the aftermath of a declared depression; but there is also a growing willingness to express that anger, to find someone to blame. Heads are rolling, but not enough, and not as steadily as some of us would like. And when that happens, we tend to point the fingers closer to home. As much as people may argue that recessions do not lead to measurable acts of intolerance, there's at least a strong wind blowing, and it smells like anti-immigrant spirit. Last week, home secretary Jacqui Smith announced new measures to not only prevent tens of thousands of non-EU foreign workers from moving to Britain to work, but also to potentially prevent the families of skilled migrants already working in Britain from joining them. So it seems the British government is not as interested in fostering complete lives among new residents as it is in simply sapping their labour to grow the economy. British work-life balance for British workers.

Arguably, some of the policies developed to respond to a downturn might and should include immigration policy, but one gets the sense that the home secretary might be taking advantage of a general "bloody foreigners taking all the jobs" recession discontent to announce changes to immigration policy, changes we had heard mutterings of before but that had so far not been formalized. After all, British people who are facing unemployment are hardly going to object to what they perceive as less competition. And when mutterings arise from those affected, they are more likely to be shot down in the current climate. One also gets the message that in a downturn, it is perfectly acceptable to cut migrants off from their families - to invest less in the well-being of the non-British living and working here in favour of nationals.

In the meantime, the media continues its poorly contextualized updates on immigration numbers and predictions, with the figures flashing menacingly across the television (cleverly interspersed with stories on how the economy is about to fall off the edge of the earth), as if to warn Brits that the enemy is adding to its numbers. You start to imagine there's a club out there, and that with every news update people run to change the figure in their notebooks. "They've got 12 more, Harriett! Change your number and add another board to the shutters!" And Harriett carefully marks off 270 52335 and fetches a board.

Now, I have a lot to say about these things. Harriett isn't the only one squirreling news away. I've been seeing so many "Immigration! Halp!" stories since news of the recession hit, that I've started filing them away, assuming that at some point, they will randomly combine to form some special message. I'm looking at the file and no message is yet apparent, except the one that says quite a few fingers are pointing straight from the difficult economy to the immigrant population. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and make sense of some of these stories from my perspective as a perpetual immigrant (although I've tended not to self-identify as such, for reasons I want to explore in another post).

But I also wanted to touch on my discomfort with the fact that in the midst of all the above, Britain also plans to partially suspend the constitution of the Turks and Caicos islands within the next month, and hand power over to the British Governor, Gordon Wetherell. Following this announcement, Premier Michael Misick made the following statement:
“I call on the international community, including CARICOM, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and other such bodies, to intercede on our behalf as we are vulnerable to the strong arm of modern day colonialism,”

Since that announcement, Misick has resigned, and seems to have in fact been involved in a fair deal of shadiness that if true, is embarrassing to contemplate. But he is right that the strong arm of modern day colonialism is still being felt, even as we chat away in our progressive-sounding, anti-imperialist rhetoric. I know that the elected Turks and Caicos government back in the 1980s was seen as largely pro-dependency. But it is extremely unsettling, as a citizen of a former British colony, to watch the same colonialism responsible for slavery still alive and well, and personified by Wetherell's proud, smiling, white face accompanying the related stories. The idea that we would want to suspend rather than facilitate democracy is disturbing to me, and this combination of events - from immigration to colonization - is today really making me feel my ancestry.

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