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Migration: Plight of “Windrush victims” and contributions of African diaspora


Migration: Plight of “Windrush victims” and contributions of African diaspora By Nick Maurice There is considerable debate in the UK at the moment, provoked by the outrageous treatment by the UK Government of the so-called “Windrush victims”, people from Jamaica who had been invited to the UK in the 1950s on the ship named the Windrush to help us rebuild our country following the Second World War. These people have lived here ever since, have positively contributed in many ways to our country for example through work in our health, social welfare and education services, they own their homes, have brought up families and now after living here for as many as 50-60 years are threatened with deportation (some have already been deported) as they don’t have documents to prove who they are. They were never provided with the necessary documents. This outrageous treatment of innocent people makes me ashamed of my country and my Government. 

But it does have to be seen in the context of irregular migration. In 2016 I spent two periods of 2 weeks working as a doctor in the refugee camp, the so-called “Jungle” in the French sea port of Calais which is only 20 miles across the sea from the port of Dover in the UK. 


Dr Nick Maurice

In my little caravan office I was seeing many young refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia etc fleeing terrible conflict in their countries, undertaking dangerous journeys across Europe to get to Calais and then trying every night to climb onto a truck, without the driver being aware, and thus hopefully being transported across the channel to start a new life in UK (albeit illegally) where many of them already had friends and family. It provoked and still provokes in my mind the debate about migration. It seems that the world is on the move! People are seeking a better life for themselves in other parts of the world and of course this applies as much to The Gambia as it does to so many other countries.

In a conversation with a group of Gambian friends when I was in Gunjur a year ago they quite spontaneously said to me “ One of the greatest contributions that the Marlborough Gunjur link has made for the people of Gunjur is to provide opportunities for young people to travel to and live and work in other parts of the world”. My immediate reaction was one of sadness that they did not want to stay in their own country and support its development. But then I thought “Wait a minute! I am using double standards here! We in UK think it is alright for our young to emigrate to Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, etc (and so many of our young do precisely that to improve their lives). “Why is it not alright for young people from The Gambia to seek a better life in, for example, Europe?”

When I asked my Gunjur friends what proportion of families in the town did they think had relatives living in other parts of the world they thought for a moment and the consensus was “60-80%!” This may be an exaggeration but it certainly made me pause and think.

One thought was the extraordinary contribution that the African diaspora is already making. It is estimated that three times the amount of official aid that is provided for development programmes in Africa, whether bilateral Government to Government aid, multilateral aid through the UN, WHO, UNICEF, World Bank, or support from NGOS such as Oxfam, the Gates Foundation etc, three times that total amount is provided through remittances sent by the African diaspora living in other countries. And of course that money goes directly to where it is needed most, namely families at the grass roots, whereas the bilateral and multilateral aid goes to Government. And in The Gambia until 14 months ago much of that money did not reach the people for whom it was destined. I also thought that in the context of the Islamic faith where one of the pillars of Islam is Zakat – the giving of support to those poorer than oneself – this might well be an added impetus to encouraging migration to gain greater wealth and therefore be in a better position to support people poorer than oneself and particularly within one’s own family.

I was recently studying a UK Government paper on migration where the terms “irregular” – meaning illegal – and “regular” meaning legal migration were used. We are all aware of the problem of young people in The Gambia taking ‘the back way’ to Europe and I am aware of families in Gunjur whose young men have done this, believing as we say that “the grass is greener on the other side” and that “the streets of Europe are paved in gold”. As far as I am aware no study has been done of what happens to these people when they arrive, assuming they have survived the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, by this irregular route. What we do know anecdotally is that there is a major problem of homelessness and unemployment of migrants in Italy and an increasing hostility towards them by the local population for “invading” the streets of Italian towns.

So what is the solution? Surely it has to be a development strategy which encourages employment and wealth creation in The Gambia and which encourages young people to want to remain in the country with their families and all that they love and get the jobs that are now on offer and help create a more prosperous environment. It is very encouraging to hear that just such a strategy has been developed by The President’s Government. We must do all we can to support that strategy. Editor’s note:

Nick Maurice is a retired Medical Doctor and the founder of Gunjur Marlborough link which has been existing for over 35 years. He served as director of Commonwealth organization Building International Links for Development( BUILD)for almost a decade until his retirement. 


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