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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Fri Jul 21 08:24:41 2000
Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2000 22:42:22 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POPULATION: Jamaicans Flee Soaring Crime and Deteriorating Economy
Article: 100874
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Jamaicans Flee Soaring Crime and Deteriorating Economy

By Corinne Barnes, IPS, 19 July 2000

KINGSTON, Jul 19 (IPS) - When Joyce McKoy packed up and left Jamaica for Britain in the 1950s as a teenager, she had one intention - to earn some money and return.

One of 12 children, McKoy, from rural Jamaica, being the eldest, felt she needed to better her economic situation so that she could assist her parents to provide for her younger brothers and sisters.

Back then McKoy was among thousands of mainly unskilled persons who were fleeing the country in a quest to better their financial situation.

Today, there is a new wave of migration, but, according to local analysts, this time Jamaicans are fleeing for a combination of economic and personal security reasons.

"It's too hard on the children. It's not fair for them to be worrying whether or not Mommy and Daddy will be returning home when they leave in the mornings. They should not have to be dealing with that kind of stress," declared a father of two who has migrated to Canada.

The United States Embassy in Kingston continues to process hundreds of non-immigrant visas each day, which for some are increasingly being seen as a way of moving away permanently from the island.

"I know this guy who got a 10-year (multiple non-immigrant) visa and he is not coming back," says Lorna Tracey, a household helper.

But it is the Canadian Embassy which, in the last two years, has been dealing with a new wave of migration. Most applicants are seeking permanent residence in that country.

"Every second person I know has left for Canada. All my friends are gone," says Paulette Thompson who works at the Bank of Jamaica.

"The migration that is taking place now is higher than it has ever been. All the people who can help us are leaving. If the United States Embassy were to say 'anybody who wants a visa come' there wouldn't be anybody left here," says Gordon Stewart, a businessman.

During the 1980s migration to Britain, Canada and the United States averaged 23,000 per year. In the early 1990s when the economy was booming, the stock market was doing well and the financial sector was growing rapidly, the migration rate fell to 19,000 per year. For many, there was every reason to remain in Jamaica then.

But all that has changed. But in the latter half of the decade the economy declined, registering negative growth of 0.7 percent a year. The unemployment level now stands at 16.3 percent and some 800,000 persons are said to be living below the poverty line. The value of the local currency continues to fall and now stands at 42.50 Jamaican dollars to one US dollar.

Some 50 financial institutions have been shut down over the last three years rocking the financial sector and putting scores of highly qualified and top management folk among the ranks of the unemployed.

"Many students and professionals are graduating here and going away. They can't just sit down here and allow their skills to get rusty," says Opposition leader Edward Seaga of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

The migration figures to Britain, Canada and the United States are now back up to just over 20,000 per year.

The crime situation is the other major factor for the mass migration. Over the last three years, on average, 1,000 persons per year have been murdered.

Since the start of this year 476 persons have been murdered. While most of these murders have been confined to the inner city communities in Kingston, acts of violence in rural areas are also rising. Reports of murder and robbery are coming from areas which were once considered "safe". Gunmen are said to be brandishing more powerful weapons than members of the security forces.

"Crime is the biggest problem facing the country," says Stewart, owner of the Sandals chain of hotels and the Air Jamaica airline.

People are leaving, Stewart says, because they are "afraid that any minute a man may come to their door and hold them up with a knife or whatever and take advantage of their family. It is the most pathetic situation."

"It's too hard on the children. It's not fair for them to be worrying whether or not Mommy and Daddy will be returning home when they leave in the mornings. They should not have to be dealing with that kind of stress," declared a father of two who has migrated to Canada.

The first major wave of migration from Jamaica took place in the 1950s and 1960s and involved primarily unskilled and uneducated workers. The second came in the 1970s and was attributed to ideological differences between the government of the day and mainly the middle and upper classes.

Democratic Socialism had been introduced by the then ruling People's National Party (PNP) and many interpreted this to mean a system where their material possessions were under threat. They therefore wanted to get out as fast as they could.

The current tide of migration is robbing the country of much needed skills, analysts say.

"Emigration has impacted on the workforce in a negative way because it is the more qualified and skilled workers that are leaving," Danny Roberts, a trade unionist is quoted in the local media as saying.

According to statistics compiled by the government's planning institute, of those who migrated to the United States in 1997, the last year for which migration figures have been analysed, 42 percent were highly skilled.

Many of these, some observers suggest, left because of the crime situation. "Young people are leaving Jamaica in droves, because they are afraid. Crime is out of control," says Radio Talk Show Host, Wilmot Perkins.



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