We are in a state of crisis. The government refuses to listen to the majority of the Black community and is pursuing a course of action which will bring the country nothing but turmoil and increasing racial division.

The fact that the proposed immigration legislation was written prior to any announcement validates that there never was any real intent to collaborate or receive feedback from the people of this community. We understand that this legislation is due to be tabled on Monday 7th March, a mere 4 weeks after the immigration proposals were announced, which means it will likely go before the House of Assembly for debate on Friday. The government’s continued failure to take a step back and consider immigration reform, that will democratically allow everyone’s voices to be heard, speaks to their intractability and their commitment to force this legislation through as quickly as possible.

Their actions are creating a rapidly spreading sense of outrage, frustration and disappointment in the Black community. It is pushing Black Bermudians towards action that they do not want to take but feel that there is simply no other recourse.

Why the hurry when a simple step back and creation of a parliamentary committee to consider all aspects of immigration reform could easily diffuse the current unrest?

Why the hurry when the majority of those individuals who have been here 15 years or more will continue to be here and contribute to, and benefit from, Bermuda’s economy while the process of immigration reform is discussed?

CURB calls that this process must be inclusive of every stakeholder in the community. Isn’t this democracy?

Looking at the current immigration proposals, CURB believes that if the legislation was subjected to an Equality Impact Assessment it would never be passed in its current form. With Black Bermudians already out of work in their thousands, and the last Census showing Black Bermudians to be statistically more likely to be fired first, hired last, made redundant quicker and employed as part-time employees, with no benefits, this legislation will only make a desperate situation far worse for the Black community.

CURB believes that the passing of this legislation will, in one generation, change the sociopolitical, environmental, racial, and cultural face of Bermuda. Opportunities for Black Bermudians will continue to worsen, and force an even greater exodus overseas in the search for work to support their families. Black Bermudians understand and recognize the pattern, and thus are turning out to protest in their thousands. The history of immigration in Bermuda clearly articulates the physical, political, and mental abuses imposed upon Black people in Bermuda. Immigration in Bermuda has always been racial and politicized. The powers-that-be used immigration and voting restrictions to decide who they wanted on the island, who should go and who could vote.

West Indians too have suffered historically being denied and/or marginalized in their attempts to immigrate to Bermuda and/or later seek status. Reasons given by the oligarchy was their perceived aggressive character and possible ‘bad’ influence on Black Bermudians. There is an ongoing history of marginalization and abuse of people of colour and today the Philippine community are the latest recipients of economic abuse at the hands of the establishment.

There are some human rights that are now considered to be so universal that they are binding on all countries whether or not they are signatories to the relevant International Conventions. For example, a country that uses state laws and powers to torture people violates human rights even if it has not signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

There is no such universal international human rights standard that requires states to give citizenship rights, such as permanent status and the right to vote, to long-term guest workers. The government has failed to provide an example of a small country that grants such citizenship rights on a wholesale basis without limits. CURB calls on government to produce examples of small jurisdictions that allow status/citizenship without limits.

It is our understanding that, in fact, the international standard for small jurisdictions actually allows for an exemption to the granting of citizenship rights to guest workers in view of the impact on a small host population and imbalances that would likely result.

Indeed, there is a persuasive argument that the impacts of allowing significant numbers of guest workers to obtain citizenship would contravene the human rights of the host population. In Bermuda, where there is a statistical negative impact on one race, the human rights of Black Bermudians may well be infringed by such legislation.

This is particularly poignant in light of the historical imbalances and impact on the financial and voting power of Black Bermudians that we witnessed into the 1970s.

Historically there is absolutely no question that Bermuda’s immigration laws were used to violate Black Bermudians’ human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is mentioned in our own Human Rights Act. The intent of this current immigration legislation will continue the violation of Black Bermudians’ human rights in the country of their birth.

Given the sociopolitical oppression surrounding immigration process in Bermuda, and the growing unrest in the community, CURB urges government to do the right thing for all the residents of this island, put their current immigration proposals on hold and allow the people of this country to sit down together and discuss the best way forward.

By Lynne Winfield

Lynne Winfield has presented on racial and social justice, privilege and oppression, diversity, inclusion, and the historical counter narrative at forums, dialogues, workshops and lectures in Bermuda and internationally.

She has a BA in Psychology from Queen’s University, and completed her graduate certification in Social Justice, Diversity & Inclusion with the University of Colorado. Currently she is working on her MSc in Social Justice & Community Action with the University of Edinburgh. She is a trained mediator using the Social Justice Mediation model; has trained in Cross-Cultural
Facilitation; and is a licensed trainer with the International Institute for Restorative Practices.