By Ravin Singh
GUYANESE and Jamaicans who migrate to Eastern Caribbean States in search of better opportunities appear to pose a “disproportionate burden” to those states, Prime Minister (PM) of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne has said.
PM Browne used his opening address to the 39th Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on Wednesday, to highlight the plight of Eastern Caribbean States in the regional integration movement.
According to the Prime Minister, “Over the last few decades, smaller members of CARICOM have borne a disproportionate burden of goods, services and people in the region. The CSME [CARICOM Single Market and Economy] is likely to increase those burdens unless compensatory measures are instituted.”
The PM then went on to identify those people as Guyanese and Jamaicans.
“Eastern Caribbean Countries, members of the OECS [Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States], have absorbed a large number of people from Jamaica and Guyana, particularly over the last three decades. The majority of migrants who have been absorbed by Antigua and Barbuda are now citizens.”
Two years ago, at a CARICOM meeting in Georgetown, Browne told reporters that Guyanese make up 20% of the Antiguan population of 90,000.
“We have gone beyond our treaty commitments to allow for the free movement of skilled nationals,” he had said. One component of CSME is the free movement of skilled nationals, who, with a skills certificate, can work in another CARICOM country.
At that meeting too, the Antiguan PM lauded the efforts of Guyanese living in his country.
“Guyanese living in Antigua and Barbuda have been making significant contributions towards the advancement of our country, and many of them, they bring skills to our country, some bring capital, and generally speaking they have been law abiding citizens,” he shared.
However, on Wednesday, PM Browne said that by absorbing those number of people, small states have “eased the strain on the economies of Jamaica and Guyana at a time of need”. Further, he added that the contribution of those states is heightened by remittances that those migrants send to their home countries (Jamaica and Guyana).
He also brought to the attention of the CARICOM leaders, the fact that Eastern Caribbean Countries suffer a trade deficit with Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago – the founding members of CARICOM.
For decades, Guyanese and other CARICOM nationals have moved across the region to various states in keeping with CARICOM’s free movement. Some countries have also been complaining about the number of illegal immigrants in their countries.