Barbadians are being urged to stay clear of the ‘xenophobic’ rhetoric promoted by those who oppose government’s efforts to deepen regional integration.
In fact, political scientist Peter Wickham has warned that such sentiments, if allowed to fester, could trigger the type of “self harm” brought upon the British people by the 2016 Brexit referendum, when that country voted to leave the European Union.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, the regionalist argued that Barbadians were being bombarded with misinformation from people who should know better.
“I think it’s unfortunate that it has become controversial, quite frankly. I think a lot of the people who are criticizing it ought to know better, because a single market is simply just that. You try to ensure that as people move from country to country they enjoy the same benefits and privileges, which other persons who are living here would enjoy.
“I do worry, because if these views are not kept in check, that’s ultimately where it ends and I’m hoping that as we watch the level of self-harm that the British are bringing on themselves by way of a similar level of xenophobia, it is enough to tell us to check ourselves and realize that we’re not that special.
“I fear that Barbados becomes like the United Kingdom and we bring a Brexit on ourselves on the basis of misinformation. It would be quite sad if we reach the stage where we begin to think like the British and we develop a level of xenophobia that matches theirs,” said Wickham.
Over the last few days there has been robust public debate about the implications of the CARICOM amendment bill and the Protocol of Contingent Rights which extends basic rights to the spouse, young children, and dependent parents of skilled CARICOM nationals, in the host territory, allowing them to enter and leave the country without restrictions.
Barbados has also decided to grant the children of skilled CARICOM nationals, access to both primary and secondary level education. It has also made provision for these families to access primary health care.
While some believe the amendment could result in CARICOM nationals placing an unwarranted burden on the country’s already struggling social welfare system, Wickham argued that an influx of regional migration could strengthen it.
“We are in an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme that is brought on by the fact that our economy is under substantial pressure. One of the ways that we can grow is by reaching out to people across the region. We are in a situation where our national insurance is telling us that they are running out of resources because they’re not enough working-age people in Barbados because of the declining birthrate. Regionalism has a way of dealing with that also.
“This is the kind of logic that we need to be aware of and we need to closely monitor this proclivity or this inclination toward xenophobia that appears to have become so popular now,” he again warned.
Wickham also argued that a greater level of public awareness on the benefits of free movement within CARICOM was needed.
“If you look at education for example and
you look at the results of the Caribbean Examinations Council and the fact that the country that performs best is Guyana; clearly there is something happening in Guyana that should make us want to go there to seek education at a secondary level.
“Barbadians seem to think for some reason that their product is better. I do not understand what disparity people are speaking about. There are a lot of misunderstandings being peddled for reasons that are purely political.
“I think if the majority were able to speak you would see an entirely different situation consistent with research that I would have done back in the early 2000’s.
“I think we are completing a circle which we have already started. We started the process back in the 1960’s with CARIFTA and then you go to the CARICOM single market agreement that was signed back in 2004. I think that it is necessary to complete it.”
Wickham added: “Perhaps it might be a wise thing for people to get out and look around the region and see what is on offer and try to understand a bit better before rushing to judgment about something on which they know nothing.”