Alfred Dawes | An open letter to the British people
Some of you might have heard the controversy surrounding the deportation of persons from England with a criminal record to Jamaica.
Despite massive public outcry and protestations from members of parliament (MPs) from both sides of the political divide, a charter flight with 17 deportees on-board arrived in Kingston on February 12.
Some had no family to come home to and were reliant on the mercy of volunteers to help them find food and lodgings. For those lucky enough to have some family members, as disconnected as they might be, they face a new existence far from where they had built a life in the only country they ever called home.
You would have heard that deportees are hardened criminals, murderers and rapists. But you will never hear the stories of the ones who were deported because of a dangerous driving conviction and those snared by unjust laws that target minorities for drug-related crimes. When the flights have left, Downing Street will want you to forget about theirs and the plight of the families they left behind in Britain. But these stories do not end with the crossing of the Atlantic.
Jamaica has a serious crime problem. A once prosperous colony that built the wealth of countless prominent families in the United Kingdom (UK) during the days of the Empire, we have struggled with anaemic growth for much of our independent years.
The influx of guns and the utilisation of the island as a transshipment point for drugs have created a gang culture that has left us having one of the highest murder rates in the world.
And while we are making some economic strides after near bankruptcy less than a decade ago, our societal problems show no improvement. Unattached youth have very little opportunities and even less chance of success. Gangs become surrogate families for those who are from broken homes with broken dreams. In Jamaica, your address determines your employability. A criminal conviction? You need not apply.
It is this ecosystem of dysfunctionality that deportees are being sent. With the label of being a deported criminal, their chances of integrating into an alien society are next to none.
Yes, they are Jamaican but they are more familiar with Kingston Upon Thames than the gritty neighborhoods of a city they hear of only in songs. They left a long time ago. They were molded by life in the UK. Everything is different for an immigrant starting over in an alien society and they are given lead boots to help them swim. No wonder many turn to a life of crime or end up being victims of criminals themselves, fueling the stereotype that they are nothing but trouble.
What your Government is doing is destroying the lives of those deportees, the Jamaican society that cannot handle our own internal problems much less to help the ‘foreigners’ with theirs, and the families in the UK from which they were ripped.
The stories of the British families disrupted by deportations are never highlighted because they cannot turn your hearts against them by saying they are dangerous criminals. They are hardworking people who have lost someone twice for making a mistake not of their doing. Their punishment goes unmentioned by the Home Office.
I pen this because I believe in the morality of the British public and their history of fighting against injustice in our island. It was the Commoners, not the Gentry, who protested the inhumane trafficking of Africans to be sold as slaves that led to the abolition of the slave trade long before any other nation saw it fit.
When a ship, the Zong, docked in Jamaica in 1781, it was revealed that they had thrown over 130 Africans overboard in order to claim for insurance. When the British abolitionists heard of this, they intensified their efforts and the groundswell of public support saw the illegality of the slave trade come into effect in 1807.
It was the news of the Sam Sharpe led rebellion in the British press that fanned the flames of public anger at the continued practice of slavery. An outraged public demanded that the practice be ended, and the Abolition Act was passed two years later.
In 1865, we were once again saved by the British people. This time from a despotic Governor who slaughtered hundreds of peasants protesting poor living conditions. The heavy-handed response of Governor Eyre drew the criticism of the British public and on his return to England, he was charged for murder twice, although he never went to trial.
Following the incident, Jamaica came under Crown Colony rule. The 1938 riots protesting poor working conditions and wages again drew the sympathy of the British common folk. Their lobbying led to the Moyne Report that recommended, among other things, comprehensive reform of public health and education, the foundations of a civilised society.
ONE FIGHTING SPIRIT
Were it not for the support of independence movements by the British people, the actions of the agitators would have been much more difficult. The warm welcome that Gandhi received in London, despite him being at odds with the Government, spoke volumes. Even with our independence we have kept close ties. It was the contribution of West Indian immigrants that helped to rebuild after the war. This Windrush generation would later be flung into the ranks of illegal immigrants and even deported.
You, the people, again rose up and stopped this evil and those who spent their lives giving to Britain can now rest easy that Britain calls them her children. The spirit of your ancestors still resides in your hearts and you must never allow the interests of a few to lead you to ignore this. Your leaders are not the same as you, but history has shown that they will bow down before you when you stand up for justice.
Once again Jamaica needs your help. Our own leaders are shackled by diplomacy. But the Jamaican people can say without repercussions – the deportations are immoral and we are asking you the people of the United Kingdom to once again, in the vein of those who fought against immorality on our behalf in generations past, end this deplorable action that not only destroys British families, but adds an unsustainable burden to our struggling society.
For those of you who are already carrying on the struggle against the odds, we salute you and stand in solidarity with you against the injustice carried out by those who lead you but lack your morality.
We have one cause. One fighting spirit. One love.
- Dr. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com