Jul 31, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – The Chevening Alumni Association of Guyana on Thursday concluded a virtually streamed panel discussion entitled “Migration and Guyana – Vulnerabilities, Empowerment and Policy Implications” which saw contributions by a number of Chevening scholars with sector specific expertise in various areas relevant to the topic at hand.
The Chevening Alumni is a network of Guyanese scholars who have completed a course of study funded by the Chevening Scholarship Programme of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British Government. Chevening Alumni are diverse in their academic and professional background and represent a cross-section of Guyanese society. Chevening Talks was created as a platform to raise awareness of the Chevening Scholarship and to promote dialogue on topics of national interest.
The first panelist, Mr. Jermaine Grant, a migration specialist with a Master’s degree in international security and diplomacy spoke at length about the history of migration in Guyana and how it has progressed into the modern day. He chronicled the journeys of the First Peoples all the way to the modern day context, which sees regional migration patterns being influenced by regional policy initiatives such as CSME.
The second panelist, Ms. Tivia Collins, from the Institute of Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies spoke at length about the interaction between state, laws and migrants. She noted that from her research on how laws impact the everyday lives of vulnerable groups such as migrants, she has found that laws don’t necessarily translate well when it comes to migrant’s lived experiences. The personal opinions of people in authority oftentimes affect the day-to-day ability of migrants to access services and resources regardless of what the policies of the State may look like on paper.
She notes that the first point of contact a migrant has when it comes to their interactions with the State’s agents is with an immigration officer. She revealed that many migrants with whom she would have worked, have revealed that they are oftentimes questioned by Immigration officials as to why there are so many of them [the migrants from a particular country, such as Venezuela] coming into the country. It was noted that they would have also interacted with police officers, health care workers, bureaucratic agents, people working at the licencing offices, etc. and would have been exposed to similar personal opinions and sentiments. Commenting on this phenomenon, Ms. Collins said, “What I have found happening in those spaces is that a lot of times, migrant populations are denied their rights or are denied services or the process itself becomes frustrated, regardless of what the law says.”
She posits that people’s personal opinions, personal perceptions about migrants tend to leak through, as well as ideas about who should belong and who should not belong. Consequently, this results in migrants being “subjected to unfortunately overt forms of discrimination… the way migrants interact with the state is through its bureaucracy, through these officers and often times, those interactions are tainted and marred with discrimination in both overt and covert forms.”
Ms. Collins also touched on the rampant issue of xenophobia, placing special emphasis on the fact that many Venezuelan women moving within the Region experience offensive or derogatory comments every single day of their life, not only from state agents but from people on the streets, where they work, where they live and in public in general. “They are called Spanish in a very disdaining way and it’s very offensive because people address them [or see them] as inferior or scornful.”
She also pointed out the issue of stereotyping migrants, and once again draws parallels with the experiences of Venezuelan women, who have notoriously been subjected to being misperceived as being involved in sexual labour or who have been unprovokingly labelled as a man thief.
The third panelist, Ms. Sunita Samaroo, an Education Programme Coordinator, briefly discussed several vulnerabilities that migrants in Guyana are faced with and how these vulnerabilities are exasperated by institutional barriers. Among these vulnerabilities, include language barriers, which hinder effective communication, the trend of non-recognition of educational or professional qualifications of migrants in Guyana, undue delay in relation to acquiring certain types of paperwork, permits, or application approvals, an inclination to avoid interaction with institutions due to how they are treated by said institutions and a lack of information accessibility.
The three panelists also highlighted the importance of having systems in place to protect migrant rights and mandate that having appropriate international conventions in place are vital to ensuring that the migrant’s rights are respected. They further posited that a government should seek to ensure that laws are applied equitably to locals as well as migrants and that more human rights discourse would consequently foster a better understanding of the various factors that drive migration and build tolerance and acceptance of migrant populations.
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