Mon | Mar 8, 2021

Alfred Dawes | The immigration timebomb

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2021 | 12:13 AM

Our motto “Out of many one people” underscores the reality of Jamaica as one of the most progressive island nations with respect to immigration. With a long history of violent and peaceful migration, the island is home to various cultures and religions, with very little ethnic and religious strife. In fact, we are so devoid of historical anger that we have manufactured our own divisions based on political loyalties, skin shade, and economic background. Migration from other Caribbean territories was natural as the island is home to the first campus of the regional University of the West Indies. Many students who came to study found the island hospitable and made it their home. The island has remained a true melting pot. Unfortunately, as many Jamaicans can attest, the converse is not true.

One of the greatest threats to modern society is uncontrolled migration. This, of course, is well recognised by the countries that see large waves of refugees. When we think of illegal immigrants, we think of the “bad hombres” from Mexico and the waves of Middle Eastern and African refugees pouring into Europe. Poor refugees migrating to First World nations may be what we envision, however, in real life, the situation can be very different. Here in the Caribbean, we have our own illegal-immigration issues. The Bahamas has for years found it difficult to police its islands scattered over eight hundred kilometres. That unmanageable border coupled with decades of economic and political instability in its southern neighbour, Haiti, has led to a large unofficial Haitian population in the country.

It is common to meet Bahamians with Francophonic names speaking in a thick Bahamian accent while their parents still struggle with any language other than creole. With a population size of about twenty times that of the Bahamas, Haiti is only one revolution away from accidentally overrunning the island. This makes many Bahamians nervous, and the xenophobia explodes every now and again whenever discussions about crime take centre stage. Nonetheless the Haitian Bahamians, legal and illegal, get along fairly well, without much disruption in their daily lives. This is different from what obtains in Trinidad and Tobago.


One of the consequences of destabilising a country is the refugee crisis it generates. We have seen that play out in Syria, Libya, and Venezuela in recent times. As the oil-rich Venezuela has become a target for sanctions, the lot of the people has got worse. In their quest for a decent standard of living, they often make the hazardous trip by boat to the neighbouring twin-island republic. Venezuela’s population dwarfs that of Trinidad several fold, and again, this is what drives the fear that Trinis will lose their homeland as more and more of the uncountable refugees pour in under the cover of night. The fears of these small Caribbean states are justified. It is easy to overwhelm the resources of a small country. Refugees cost money to care for, and the cost of integration in society is even more expensive. Then there are the clashes with what is to be called the identity of a country. This is more pronounced when religion becomes involved.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India in 2019 passed the Citizenship Amendment Act that allowed Sikh, Jain, and Hindu refugees from neighbouring countries a clear path to Indian citizenship. The courtesies were not extended to Muslims. That decision, as well as controversial steps such as the construction of the Ram Mandir (temple) on a site where a mosque existed, and was destroyed by a Hindu mob, underscores the stance that India is destined to be a Hindu and not secular state under their leadership. In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany famously said multiculturalism has failed. The influx of Muslims into Europe is threatening to change the ethnic and religious makeup of the continent. In France, there are large Muslim communities in Paris and other major cities. What has the natives even more concerned is that the birth rate for Europeans is less than what is needed to replace the current population, i.e. two parents producing at least two children. The migrants’ fertility rate threatens to make White Europeans the minority by the end of the century and even earlier if the current rates of migration continue.

And it is not just refugees heading north. The old colonies are sending their children to the “mother countries” in droves. The United Kingdom, the greatest colonial power of them all, now has to live with the fact that what it meant to be British when they ruled the world has changed forever. Asians, Africans, and West Indians lay claim to that heritage as much as the Anglo-Saxon descendants. And no amount of Windrush posturing can change that.

Some believe that the events in the United States are a last stand for the “Whiteness” of America. This is not far-fetched as the US government has in the past restricted the immigration of certain people of a different hue. In spite of the “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, the Chinese and Blacks were prohibited from those freedoms by laws designed to limit their immigration. The racial tension in the US has been played out time and time again in riots, discrimination, affirmative action, and right wing activism. Now, we wait to see how the newcomers to the immigration game will respond to the threat of losing their identities.

- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to and