Jamaicans fear retribution in Turks and Caicos

Thursday, May 12, 2016

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THE Jamaican reputation for being tough and fearless when going after their goals, no matter where in the world they are, seems to apply everywhere else but the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI).

A large number of Jamaicans interviewed here speak forcefully about the discrimination they are facing from TCI authorities. But without exception, they asked not to be identified because of fear of retribution.


"If you publish my name this morning, my work permit will be revoked by this evening," said a Jamaican who left St Catherine three years ago to work in the thriving real estate business in this British-run archipelago.


"I’m obviously exaggerating the speed, but you get the point. They might just decide not to renew my permit when it expires in less than a year’s time," he said, insisting: "Remember not to call my name."


Said another Jamaican who has been living for seven years in the TCI: "I try to keep on good terms with my TCI co-workers because they have a tendency of reporting you to their Government, if you have a higher position than them, that you are occupying a position that they are qualified for.


"The thing that bothers me is that those TCI people making the complaints don’t qualify for the positions they are quarrelling about. They just don’t like to see a foreigner, especially a Jamaican, over them. They want to cut you down.


"Others I have met have said the same thing. You better bet their authorities will act on their complaints. I wish our authorities in Jamaica were like that — acting on our complaints."


Asked if she had made any complaints to the Jamaican authorities, she said no, adding that she was unsure whether that would help and might only "expose me to repercussions here…The Jamaican consul here is well established in business and it might not be fair to ask him to jeopardise his welfare in the TCI."


Several Jamaicans said their compatriots usually stand out where they work because of a higher work ethic, noting that some TCI citizens, or Belongers as they are called, don’t prove themselves to be good workers.


"Very often you see that as soon as they have some money they take off, many to the United States, and only return to work when the money is finished. Employers prefer us Jamaicans because we are reliable. We don’t give one-hour notice when we can’t make it to work and cause pressure to be on our co-workers," said a Jamaican who lives in Grand Turk, the capital. "We wouldn’t last long anyway."


Yet another said while he had not been harassed as a Jamaican, he had been having difficulty getting members of his family to join him, after nine years in the TCI.


In the environment of tense uncertainty, a recent rumour caught fire that police were waiting at Moneygram outlets on the island to catch Jamaicans who are the biggest clients of the remittance agency. The rumour was never confirmed, but many Jamaicans were shaken.


One Jamaican woman who runs a successful business in the TCI said she started worrying about her status when Finance Minister Washington Misick was quoted by the
TCI Sun newspaper last year as launching a blistering attack on foreigners, including Jamaicans, bluntly telling them to stay out of his country if they want to engage in public celebration of their cultures.


"I didn’t expect it. To me, as long as you were not breaking any law, you should be able to be yourself, no matter where you came from," the businesswoman argued. "I do feel I am making a useful contribution to the Turks and Caicos Islands."


She added that before seeing the newspaper statement, she had thought that the problem she was experiencing with getting work permits for Jamaicans to work in the business, because Belongers were uninterested, was just typical bureaucracy.


"Now, I think differently. I hear others saying that they have the same problem with work permits. It seems they don’t want Jamaicans here. But it makes little or no sense because they don’t have the manpower that the country needs to develop," she suggested.


Jamaicans, at 1,768, are the second-largest group of foreigners in the TCI population. The
TCI Sun published official figures showing that of the total population of 31,458, less than one-third, or 12,030 were British Overseas Territories citizens and/or Belongers; 10,981 are Haitians; 1,476 are from the Dominican Republic; 818 from the United States of America; 524 from The Bahamas; 403 from Canada; 381 from the United Kingdom; 374 from Guyana, and 262 from other countries.


Analysts have suggested that the fact that TCI natives are already a minority in their country, and will soon be overtaken by the Haitians as the largest single group, is the likely cause of the backlash against foreigners, including Jamaicans.


"It’s of course an immature and inappropriate response that solves nothing and causes frustration especially among investors," said Johnny Johnson, who runs a Caribbean website. "It is far better to build a peaceful and harmonious society, because you cannot turn back the clock."


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