Eager to move on from the recent ‘Windrush generation’ controversy, the United Kingdom today announced it was opening up nine new diplomatic posts across the Commonwealth, including four in the Caribbean.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made the revelation saying that in an effort to “boost prosperity, tackle security issues and clear up the environment”, the UK will be establishing a firmer presence in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda and the Bahamas, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.
Even as Britain prepares to leave the European Union following its Brexit vote in June 2016, Johnson assured that it will remain “outward facing, open for business and a champion of the rules-based international border”.
During a courtesy visit on Barbados TODAY’s CEO and Editor-In-Chief Kaymar Jordan this morning, British High Commissioner to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Janet Douglas expressed delight over the news of the opening of the three new offices in the sub-region, which should be in place “in early 2019”.
“This decision reflects our historical links with the region, and the UK’s commitment to strengthening our existing excellent relations. These missions will be innovative and agile and will improve the UK’s engagement with, and support for the Eastern Caribbean,” Douglas said.
Though not making a link between the announcement and the controversy surrounding Britain’s recent move to deport undocumented Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK aboard the Windrush prior to the 1971, Douglas told Barbados TODAY the new offices represented an opportunity for the region and the UK to deepen their relationship.
“We have existing excellent relations with the Eastern Caribbean, and we see this as a great opportunity to strengthen our ties, and for the UK to increase its cooperation and support for the Eastern Caribbean at time when, following that terrible hurricane season last year, the vulnerability of small island states including the Eastern Caribbean was shown clearly on the international stage,” the UK diplomat said.
In addition to the planned offices, the UK has also announced millions of pounds in funding this week for human rights development, marine protection, and for additional funding for scholarships for Commonwealth students.
Asked what assurance there was for Barbadians and other Caribbean nationals affected by the threat of deportation in the UK, Douglas promised that the situation would be monitored carefully.
“We will do everything we can to make sure that the people who have given so much to the UK over the time they have lived [there] are respected and treated in the way they deserve. What has happened before is really regrettable, but going forward, I can give the assurance that those people situations will be taken seriously and we will do everything we can to help them,” Douglas assured.
After coming under intense pressure, British prime minister Theresa May has apologized for the “anxiety” caused to the thousands of Commonwealth citizens, while announcing the establishment of a new unit to help people establish their rights to remain in Britain.
Agreeing that the situation was appalling, Douglas reiterated that the UK government was very sorry, adding that there was no question that anyone who had the right to be in the UK should not be denied that right.
“We have taken quick action to set this unit up and we very much hope that people will take their cases to the unit and will get the swift and effective results,” said Douglas, adding that the hope was to have cases resolved within two weeks of them visiting the unit.
“Of course there will be no charge for any documentation or assistance that is offered to those people,” she added.
Douglas said while there were no plans at the moment for Britain to sit with CARICOM leaders to discuss matters relating to immigration, if CARICOM were to request a meeting “then we would be open to looking at that and talking to them”.