The Migration Issue Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 4, 2004

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THE controversy over the aborted attempts by a Canadian agency, IPACS, to recruit skilled Guyanese to work and live in Canada has spilled into the political arena.

The PNC/R told reporters yesterday the Government was embarrassed by the recent meeting at City Hall that IPACS convened "to advise Guyanese on emigration to Canada."

Said the PNC/R in a statement issued at a news conference: "Guyanese are flocking to leave these shores in even greater numbers because: · many have become despaired of the Government’s confused and inconsistent economic policies; · they have suffered enough from the deteriorating security and crime situation; · those who are public servants have become fed up with the arrogance and callousness of their treatment by the government and can see no future for themselves and their children."

The party's stark conclusion: "People are fed up with this regime."

For a poor country whose population is less than a million and whose endowed natural wealth remains largely untapped, emigration is hardly a laughing matter. It is something that should be addressed by our leaders across the country's sociopolitical divide.

Of course, addressing emigration means talking about its history as well as its current status in order for the people on the remigration think-tank to get a full grasp of the enormity of the issue.

Author Lomarsh Roopnarine began an article titled Guyanese Migration in the Guyana Chronicle on December 2, 2001, with these satirical words: "The national slogan seems to be 'now you see me, now you don't.'"

Then: "There is clear evidence that even though one takes into consideration the recent influx of deportees and the return of an unknown number of Guyanese, the pattern of Guyanese migration since independence has been predominantly outward."

A U.S. Library of Congress Country Study on Guyana says, "Guyanese statistics indicate an average of 6,080 declared emigrants a year between 1969 and 1976, increasing to an average of 14,400 between 1976 and 1981. Figures for 1976 showed 43 percent of the emigrants going to the United States, 31 percent to Canada, 10 percent to Britain, and 9 percent to the Caribbean.

"Deteriorating economic conditions caused emigration to increase sharply in the 1980s. Unofficial estimates put the number leaving the country in the late 1980s at 10,000 to 30,000 annually. Many of these emigrants were reported to be middle-class professionals, largely Indo-Guyanese, who opposed government policies that favored employment of Afro-Guyanese in the public sector. This emigration resulted in a significant loss of skilled personnel."

A United Nations Human Rights database on Guyana points out that emigration soared as a result of the country's economic problems of decades ago. "Commencing with the oil crisis in the 1970s, the 'cooperative socialism' that had been the official policy of the country...led to a continuous breakdown of the basic infrastructure. Growing unemployment and low wages had led to increased internal migration and emigration of men. Female-headed households had increased from 24.4 per cent in 1980 to 29.5 per cent in 1992."

Another reason for emigration between the 1970s and the early 1990s was, according to the UN database, the fact that "Guyana had been rated as one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. The widespread impoverishment of the majority of Guyanese had brought with it a continuous decline in per capita production and real wages while prices of basic commodities were rising; a severe reduction in the quality of the educational system; hunger, malnutrition, homelessness and an increasing number of street children; inadequate housing and a decline in the public health services."

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. Question is, If Guyanese today are "fed up with the government" when the country, under the current government, has been transformed from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere into a developing middle-income one, and the percentage of its people living under the poverty line has declined significantly, as the latest country census testifies, what were they back then?

According to Lomarsh Roopnarine in his 2001 article, Guyanese Migration, "Some sources place the Guyanese overseas population at around 400,000, but it is believed that the figure is probably much higher since many Guyanese have entered foreign countries illegally and these countries do not always count undocumented aliens in their census."

As we see it, Government and Opposition should resume their dialogue soonest and include emigration/remigration as a top agenda topic.

This is a Guyanese issue, not a partisan one, and should be dealt with urgently by all sides in the political arena.