Migrants and refugees are both to be valued

It is a breath of fresh air in a world that has lost its sense of direction and hope.

It is a shining example of the triumph of humanity over selfishness and narrow-mindedness.

It is a beacon of solidarity with our Caribbean sisters and brothers in their time of need.

It is living proof that we are capable of treating the arrival and the presence of immigrants and refugees in our midst as opportunities for promoting social and economic growth.

The good news is that the Guyanese government has recently given a public indication of its desire to treat unregistered and undocumented Caribbean migrants as members of our Caribbean family, rather than as illegal immigrants or unwelcome refugees.

The tone of that official indication is indeed heart-warming. Foreign Minister Carl Greenidge, referring to the recent influx into Guyana of Haitians, Cubans and Venezuelans, had this to say:

“…we have general concern for and we agree and have acknowledged that we have to try and make them comfortable rather than feel unwelcome; we will do the necessary…We are not without compassion as regards any of our neighbours and I think as regards Venezuelans who find themselves in difficulties, we will extend to them and we will try to extend to them as much support as we would extend to anyone else in the region and in that sense I don’t think we would want to discriminate,”

That caring attitude on the part of the Guyanese government is also shared by prominent elements of the civil society. According to press reports a few weeks ago, many local non-governmental organizations appealed to the Guyanese and other CARICOM governments, asking them “not to send back Venezuelans fleeing their homeland, but instead register them to allow for their eventual repatriation when conditions in their home country improve”.

That appeal arose from the recent circumstances in which Haitians, Cubans and Venezuelans have been arrested for overstaying their time or for entering this Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country illegally.

These developments should not come as a surprise. On the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly last year 2016, Guyana’s President David Granger addressed the high-level meeting on Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and took a similarly principled position:

“Guyana supports the protection of the rights of all migrants. Guyana welcomes the process that this meeting will initiate for the convening, in 2018, of an inter-governmental conference on international migration with a view to the adoption of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

Such a position is all the more striking, coming as it does from a country which for several decades has been considered as the major source of economic migrants entering the other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, both legally and illegally.

One can only hope that the other countries of the wider Caribbean area will eventually follow Guyana’s example in taking such a positive approach to immigration policy.

At the global level, Pope Francis I has initiated an action plan to support the assimilation of migrants into new cultures and has criticized attempts to expel migrants fleeing persecution in their country of origin.

Himself a child of immigrants, the Pope has given the international refugee crisis high priority. He has opened up Vatican properties to migrants fleeing war zones and has brought back with him twelve Muslim Syrians from among those he met on his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos. His four-point strategy is summarized in the following terms: “To welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.

At the other extreme of immigration policy, one is left speechless by the inhumane and irrational decision taken this Tuesday by US President Donald Trump who consistently demonstrates a toxic combination of emotional lunacy, policy vacuity and unmitigated incompetence.

That country’s political mis-directorate has taken the decision to cancel, with a six-month delay in implementation, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA had been put in place by former President Barack Obama in 2012. It opened the way for some 800,000 undocumented immigrants to stay in the country for renewable two-year periods to study or work if they had come to the United States before age 16.

These immigrants, informally referred to as “Dreamers”, are children who were brought into the USA by their parents and have been registered in DACA because they satisfied one or more of the basic requirements of education, employment or military service.

Contemporary migration patterns are a direct consequence of centuries of colonialism. The current industrialized countries have built their political, economic and military strength using the human and natural resources of today’s developing countries.

The peoples of the developing countries are therefore seeking to migrate precisely because their own economies and physical environments have been left in a state of structural degradation by historic colonialism and by the domination of today’s globalized system of supply and demand.

It is the responsibility of all categories of countries to establish rational and balanced immigration policies. Humanitarian and economic criteria are both important. Migrants and refugees are both to be valued.

While it is impossible to accept all applicants for immigrant or refugee status, immigration policies must be grounded in appropriate legislation and structured implementation systems that support the needs of the newly arrived and their smooth integration into the economy and the community that welcome them.