Living in Barbados: The Hazards of Illegality – Hubert Williams

Beautiful Barbados sung by “The Merrymen” of Barbados.

Living in Barbados – The Hazards of Illegality

By Hubert Williams – Published August 4, 2009.

Bridgetown, Barbados, — More than two years ago I had seen it coming… as some people would say, full butt: that Barbados, traditionally one of the more disciplined, orderly and educated societies in the Caribbean, was becoming increasingly intolerant of some other West Indians being within its borders; and that was why in July 2007 I had sent a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Sun (which was published as an article) calling public attention to what I had begun to observe.

For very specific reasons, I did not send the material to any other newspaper, in or out of Barbados. If it was published elsewhere (and I am not aware that it was) it could only have been through reproduction from the “Sunday Sun”.

The letter had found substantial support in the scholarly research of renowned Guyanese historian Dr. Walter Rodney – whose brutal dispatch in June1980 had shunted Guyana further off the course of stable nationhood – that migration between the two countries was not alone a 21st century phenomenon. Its heaviest flows were during the 19th century, and every time the tap of human movement was turned on, it was Barbadians heading southward, down to Demerara and away from the excruciating poverty and lack of opportunity for Blacks in their homeland.      

Indeed, truth be told, Barbadians benefited the more from such movement and relocation. And in the fullness of time, when West Indian nations wake up to the reality of their smallness (both physically and population-wise) and to the true nature of global power, it is to Guyana, with its great bulk and inexhaustible natural resources, that they will most likely longingly look for community. Of great importance, too, is the fact that merely a chink now remains of the previously open doors to metropolitan centres of traditional Barbadian migrant flows.

Had I not been closely observing and analyzing the domestic situation in Barbados, and noting the worrying scenarios unfolding just about everywhere else in Anglo-Caribbean jurisdictions, I would still have had clanging in my ears the warning sounded to the Region, 34 years ago by Sir Shridath Ramphal as he took leave of us at “Iron Shores” on the Jamaican North Coast to become the London-based new Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

“The people of the Caribbean must be careful”, he had said, and not relax in our commitment to community. “We must be careful to strengthen our bonds lest the sea which we believe is the uniting force between us becomes the instrument that increasingly separates us. We must be careful and work steadfastly to strengthen our unity, for if not, in the face of difficulties – and challenges there will be – it is into our separateness that we shall regrettably retreat.”

We now find ourselves in the throes of the most serious global recession in almost a century, and Barbados (perhaps, others are tempted too) seeks to self-preserve by kicking out the “furriners”… and ‘community’ finds itself further undermined. To recall Sir Shridath again: “If we are not sufficiently committed and careful, when challenges descend, it is to our separateness that we shall retreat.”

Now, almost a lifetime after ‘Iron Shores’ we are still swimming in a swirling sea of uncertainty and leaving the world to wonder – whither CARICOM?


Years ago I used to speak with deep pride to officials overseas about the three outstanding institutions of the Caribbean: West Indies Cricket Team, University of the West Indies and Caribbean Development Bank: now the team grovels below the heel of lowly Bangladesh; and distinguished novelist Dr. George Lamming referred late July to the UWI in tormented tones, with campuses virtually nationalized and what was a regional treasure now descending into becoming just a collection of national polytechnics. Only the CDB so far remains true to its original character.

I chose in the 2007 letter to the “Sunday Sun” to end unspecifically, and now there is need to quote that final paragraph, with all its meaningful vagueness: “But I suspect that there are other factors in this issue that may be considered much too sensitive for general public debate”.

I did not wish at the time to delve into issues of ethnicity which under-girded the rising tide of intolerance of Guyanese migrants, although it was about the same fears, though with a difference in source, that the entertainer Mac Fingall about a quarter of a century ago had composed and sung a popular Crop-Over season calypso; the only difference being that he had anticipated a virtual economic takeover by immigrants from the east, whereas the current flow is in fact coming from the south.


The more recent Guyanese inflow is a complex matter, about which Bajans had until now been speaking only in hushed tones, whispers. They treasure their island’s stability and tranquility, projecting the phenomenon of two peoples living together, but separately, a homogeneity that is heterogenous. That has long been the secret to Barbados’ success. And they do not want Guyanese, especially Guyanese ‘East Indians’, to come in and spoil what they treasure.

A look at any issue of the “Sunday Sun” will likely present evidence of that to which I am referring – two cultures, side by side, in peace: a happy co-existence. As examples, take the issues of July 12 and 19 when I was in Barbados – absolutely homogenous. From the corporate supplements, through the promotional advertisements and throughout the social notices (death announcements and such like) 100% Black Barbadians. And the stranger might ask: don’t White people celebrate, or die, in Barbados?

The estimated 5% White Barbadians in the population exist at peace in their own space and, in a sense, live their own culture – an exalted invisibility, though the opposite suggests itself when one attends a concert by that group of white Barbadian musicians known as “The Merrymen”. I tend not to miss such performances both because I rate Emile Straker, the lead singer, among the world’s top performers, an exceptional whistler and Barbados’ leading folk singer, and because I go through the process each time of a virtual head count. Only a few Black Bajans usually attend.


Thus Barbados presents a unique social environment that in its own way has managed to avoid the open racial animosities and consequential upheavals that are tearing apart so many other mixed societies, Guyana being a distressing example. It is into this tried and tested Bajan formula of shared existence that have stepped Guyanese of different races, different classes, different types, and at different times.

During the latter part of the 20th century, with the rise of one-party dominance by the People’s National Congress of Forbes Burnham and near collapse of the Guyana economy, the country lost a significant proportion of its middle class families, through migration. Most went to the far north (USA, Canada, England), a few to Australia and New Zealand, and those who wished not to leave the Region relocated in Barbados and some of the other islands.

Most who came to Barbados were qualified, able, not seen as challenging nationals for local jobs, for many were absorbed in such regional institutions as the University of the West Indies, Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce, Caribbean Conference of Churches, Caribbean Examinations Council, Caribbean News Agency, Caribbean Development Bank, and so on; and the great majority of these were Black.

Not so the most recent flows, of essentially low-income workers, though many highly skilled in the trades and with experience in agriculture. Others were taking jobs like cutting sugar cane that Barbadians were turning their backs upon, and many found themselves at the mercy of exploitative contractors and accommodation providers; and, of course, with most of them being East Indians, the new flow had no claims to make – as some of their Black countrymen could – of having descended from Barbadian migrants to Guyana.

CARICOM’s protection does not yet extend to them, only to specific categories of skilled and academically qualified West Indians. So when a recession bites into domestic prosperity and employment/wages begin to contract, the crunch will come, especially with a comparatively new government under considerable pressure to perform.

Generally, there has long been a sensitivity within some segments of the Barbadian population to the sharing of their space with non-nationals, even to the point of a miscomprehension of the importance of the services sector to the national economy. So, it is not Guyanese alone to whom they are becoming intolerant, but Guyanese present a peculiar problem, competing, as I have said, with often superior skills at the lower end of the jobs market, and at weekends providing in many cases better and cheaper fruits and vegetables than local sellers at public vending areas.

There is another issue which has burgeoned in recent years and is critical to the image of Guyanese in Barbados, and always highlighted by the Media. Strong surveillance and interdiction by the United States and northern Caribbean authorities have forced a re-routing of substantial quantities of cocaine from Colombia through Guyana where surveillance has been weak and corruption endemic.

Though precise quantification is difficult, the Barbadian authorities know that Guyanese couriers or ‘mules’ bring some of it into the island. What percentage of it escapes detection on entry is very difficult to tell. What is undeniable is that Guyanese have been helping to prime the illegal drugs trade in Barbados.


There has also been a continuing problem of stolen Barbados passports, especially those that can facilitate entry to the USA and Canada, with the perpetrators changing photographs and other required information and on-passing to recipients for a reported US$15,000 each. Today’s technology reaches everywhere and facilitates everything.

From information to which one has access, there is the impression that some transient Guyanese criminal elements (from other countries, too) come into Barbados, assess it as a society that is stable, relatively still open and trusting and thus ripe for the plucking. Indeed, poor-quality gold jewelry is still being palmed off on the unsuspecting as 18-carat and at high prices.

And in my own experience, it was a Guyanese contractor who in 2007 disappeared with a $10,000 deposit for construction work; and it was to the Barbados police and court system that I had to resort in 2008 for apprehension and restitution.

Then there is the question of prostitution, not alone by Guyanese for there are other Caribbean nationals (not always English-speaking) who come in specifically for that, but such activity by a few Guyanese further tarnishes the image of Guyana.

Another matter which I believed ruffled Barbadian sensitivity and heightened intolerance was one over which I differed years ago with the Guyana representative in Barbados. He considered it part of the process of desired integration; I deemed it unwholesome exhibitionism, an in-your-face kind of thing, against which I felt the Barbadians would stiffen their backs. And I think they have.


Guyana’s anniversaries and festivals became highly celebratory on Barbadian public beaches and other places, and a vocal red-shirted contingent of working class Guyanese in Barbados became a fixture in the island’s annual May Day parade… IN YOUR FACE.

One local ‘landscaper’ (he weeds yards) made the following wry post-May Day comment to me two years ago: “ Oi didn’t know there were so many of yo-all in Barbados”… and that suggested a creeping, festering annoyance.

In recent times one was the more likely to encounter more frequently a new breed of Guyanese (of both races), crude, coarse, loud and vulgar, with expletives peppering their normal language, and a poor sense of hygiene in their domestic surroundings. Indeed, in the area where I am I myself have had to change my accustomed route to the sea-side which had coursed through where migrants rent high-cost rooms but has become unsanitary and smelly. Their middle-class Barbadian neighbours cannot be comfortable about the changed conditions near their lovely homes.

Small wonder that immigration officials rounding up Guyanese illegals in pre-dawn darkness, and deporting without the kindness of at least allowing them to gather their possessions, have not generated any widespread public condemnation here.

Generally, over the years Guyanese migrants in Barbados, legal and illegal, have lived relatively unmolested, and came ‘acropper’ (as the English would say) only if they ran foul of the law; that is, until this new dispensation by the current government.

I write this article as a keen observer, but I too am involved, for though I first came to live in Barbados in 1977 I yet have no status here, because I am a CARICOM national living in a CARICOM state which has always declared its firm commitment to CARICOM ideals. But, of course, that is not the law. Yet I have existed completely untroubled. So, deciding that in the face of the current clean-up campaign, I should do something about myself, I went to the Immigration Department mid-July and declared to the officer that I was one of the Guyanese ‘illegals.’

During a meeting lasting about 30 minutes, I was persuaded that I was not an illegal, advised as to the areas of eligibility, and directed as to the process towards applying for and acquiring legal status.


Two misconceptions which are generally widely held by non-nationals in Barbados were discussed during the meeting:

(1) That Guyanese whose fore-parents were/are Barbadians can on that basis become citizens of Barbados, once not disqualified by any deficiency (criminal record, etc.); and

(2) That Guyanese (or any other non-national) living illegally in Barbados for 8 or more years can apply to regularize their situation under an amnesty announced by the Government.

In (1), fore-parents is a misnomer. Eligibility will devolve only if an applicant is the son or daughter of a Barbadian citizen (man or woman), In other words, eligibility is to first-generation descendants; and in (2) residency on the island is not cumulative, so when I said to the officer that I had first arrived to live in Barbados in 1977, he considered all the facts and declared “You are not an illegal, nor do you qualify under the amnesty, because, in fact, you have not been living in Barbados – legally nor illegally.

“Every time you exit – and these have been numerous – and come back in, that is not a return, but a new entry; so having come through the airport on July 8, the immigration officer there would have given you as a CARICOM national permission to stay three months in Barbados (in fact, my Guyana passport shows 30 days), with the right to apply for a further three months… So, at this point in time you are in the country legally.”

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  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On 05/18/2012 at 11:03 am

    Superb and very informative.

  • Ma'cell  On 05/23/2012 at 6:23 pm

    I read the article twice, very informative.

  • Sybil  On 05/25/2012 at 12:22 am

    I do not blame the Bajans for having such attitude towards Guyanese because these people have desended upon this tiny island as if they have the right to be there. People have to understand that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but Guyanese carry their abnoxious behavior everywhere. Besides, they have literally transformed this tiny nation into a culture that is unlike Bajan.

    Barbados was truly a beautiful island to visit, but over the years there has been a steady transformation its landscape and it has lost that “classyness” many visitors savored. Guyanese have culturally imposed themselves on this tiny nation and this has created much anamosity among Bajans. Regardless of Guyana’s role in shaping the future of many Bajans a century ago, this nation does not deserve this type of treatment from a ‘poor’ representation of Guyanese in their country.

    Unlike many in the Caribbean, Barbados has battled the steady storm and made a name for itself around the world, through tourism. However, many are taking advantage of this country’s generousity, as the rest of the world struggles to overcome this difficult economy downturn.

    In fact, had Bermuda not created laws to control the influx of people coming into the country, then that tiny island would have been overrun with people seeking jobs today.

  • No  On 05/28/2012 at 11:56 am

    Why Guyanese do not stay home and fix your big Guyana, and keep out of people’s countries?

  • protect Bim  On 05/28/2012 at 12:50 pm

    It hurts my heart to see so many Guyanese in Barbados. Guyanese are not Caribbean people. What are they doing in the Caribbean. That nasty common accent they have stinks. Poor Antigua is suffering because this garbage. 90 % of the bums you see in Bim (Barbados), are Guyanese beggars. Barbados you must also focus your attention on the lawless Jamaicans who are now seeking refuge in your country. You must stop the foolish reggae on the beach, and hill. This is how the young illiterate Jamaicans get into Bim.——-( Barbados), your country, is the best thing in the Caribbean you have to protect it from these two lawless nations at all costs. Bajans… you are beautiful people. Your beautiful accent is uniquely Caribbean. See you for Cropover. God bless Bim…..

  • Cyril Balkaran  On 05/31/2012 at 3:13 am

    It was after the collapse of the great West Indian Federation that those responsible for the disintegration of Caribbean Unity began erecting the walls of despair in the region. You know the names of all the Caribbean leaders both past and present of the 50 years of Protectionism in this region. It is good to put Immigration laws in place to control Inward migration and to take whatever Professional from whichever country, Guyana included to develop your small Islands. In Barbados, there are medical doctors, Lawyers, and economist who contribute to the development of this Tourist nation so what is wrong if a few common class people arrive there and add to the rythm and rhyme of this nation. I see nothing wrong in this it is only their obnoxious Immigrations rules of landing that need to change. The more people you land the more money the Government earns so immigration officers land everyone so that you too can be paid a decent wage.

    • g t -please  On 06/01/2012 at 4:12 am

      Balkaran what are you doing in Barbados. Why don’t you and your medical doctor, lawyers, and economist friends go back to Guyana and contribute to Guyana’s development. The Barbados economy,and infrastructure was built-up long before Guyanese got there. Fool the West Indian Federation was never great. The disintegration of Caribbean Unity started in Jamaica, Trinidad, and your Guyana. The black, and white Bajans know the evil that exists in the heart and mind of the Indian. Maybe this is why they do not want you in Bim …. plus you stick out.

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