Time will tell just how many Bermudians have opted to leave the country in search of a better life, but lawyer Rick Woolridge firmly believes they’re leaving by the thousands. And he says unemployment or under-employment is the lead driving factor.
Mr Woolridge, a lawyer for the past 17 years, is one of many anxiously awaiting the latest Census Report, which by the way is late; to determine definitive numbers on just how many Bermudians have opted to leave the island to live in England.
If he had to guess, he said those numbers would run in the region of 2,500 to 3,000 Bermudians.
Asked why he describes some of them as “economic refugees” he said the term refugee by itself usually refers to “a person who seeks assistance in another country other than their own because they cannot avail themselves of adequate assistance in their own country for survival – normally for human rights which is in the convention”.
“We have an island, a British Overseas Dependent Territory, that’s supposed to be self sufficient yet we have high unemployment and high under-employment.
“We have people who are more than qualified in different disciplines but they cannot find work, or adequate work in Bermuda. We have 4,000 people on Financial Assistance – give or take, but yet you get a food voucher and other bills paid through Financial Assistance, and you have to go to The MarketPlace to buy food.
“When you go to The MarketPlace you see Filipinos and Indians working! And I don’t knock them for that. But where I do have a problem is, if they are working and we (Bermudians) are not, why is that door open for them, and not us?
“I’m sure that in accordance with the principle of ‘Buy Bermuda’, there should be a social/corporate responsibility to hire Bermuda/Bermudians.”
He also noted that in most cases, the money earned by these workers is being sent out of the country. “Dollars are earned in Bermuda and every Friday, and at the end of the month, that money leaves our shores. It’s not being spent in Bermuda, and it leaves our shores un-taxed.”
“The Financial Services Tax may increase the costs of services but there’s nothing affixed by way of taxation on the monies earned that’s being sent out of here.”
Mindful that this is an election year, Mr Woolridge said: “This government won the last election with a mandate that said 2,000 jobs in five years, while we’re still hearing of redundancies, like the most recent set by Ascendant Group. We are not creating jobs, we’re losing them.”
As far as he’s concerned, the struggle of unemployment for a growing number of Bermudians is real. “I invite a MPs to visit Magistrates’ Court every Wednesday and Friday morning at 9:30am to be enlightened by the choices that people have to make daily.
“The reality is there are countless Bermudians in court for unpaid bills who literally ask themselves ‘do I buy my medication, feed my children, or pay my bills?’ If I had ten cents for every time a client tells me they can’t pay their bills I wouldn’t have the financial troubles I have. This is a real phenomenon but not one that cannot be fixed,” he said.
“Bermuda has the potential to be the envy of the world if we were an inclusive and not an exclusive society. Our people are running to England in droves.
“I heard Sir John Swan and others say we want Bermuda to be like Monaco. Well in Monaco there’s the rich and the poor – the wealthy and their servants. The middle class had to go north because they couldn’t afford to live in their own country anymore.
“In Bermuda, our north is the UK. And some of our people flocking to the UK are technically breaking the law because you have to be self sufficient to live there. But we get through that loophole because we’re a British Overseas Dependent Territory.
“Some are taking advantage of opportunities to be educated and elevating themselves and their children. Some are getting caught up in the only lifestyle that they know. And some are having babies and living off the system with these new ‘anchor babies’. When I say ‘anchor babies’ I mean those children who are born in the UK whose parents obtain the right to live there. And that’s happening here in Bermuda as well.
“Some of these people do this in desperation. Very few leave their country – the place of their birth, unless they feel forced to do so. And that’s what happening. In fact, I was contacted by someone from the Birmingham City Council to warn me that if my client returns to the UK, that they would take her three children away from her. This client returned to Bermuda for a case and returned to England. I don’t know whether or not her children were in fact taken from her.
“It’s also interesting to note that this loophole that allows Bermudians to emigrate to the UK may change as a result of Brexit, which will determine who now will be allowed to come to the UK. The next phase is who can stay. I anticipate there we’re heading for big problems. I also note the recent Bermuda Passport changes and ask could that be so they can better keep track of it?
“Bermuda has an emigration problem. It’s not about the people coming into the UK to positively avail themselves of better opportunities. The problem is that in Bermuda many opportunities are not available to us, and we find ourselves having to leave our own country just to survive. And I believe this can only be by design because they want their new Monaco right here in Bermuda.”
But he said it’s the social climate leading up to the next election that will feature prominently on the minds of Bermudians when they go to the polls.
“You see the pressure and the stress of living in this country daily. And you see the venomous racist comments on the blogs,” said Mr Woolridge. “I’ve even heard a fairly successful Black Bermudian male in International Company Business openly say ‘If you’re not seated at the table you’re on the menu’.”
He concluded: “We are in a very dangerous position because if you take my ability to feed my children away from me, watch what kind of animal I become. If you take a real look at the road rage on our roads, crime, and our self medication through the use of alcohol and drugs this place is socially sick because of the problems of living here. We are a broken people.
“When you remove hope from a people you have anarchy. And we’re in a prime position for that.”