The fear of foreigners is, of course, neither new nor unique to Antigua and Barbuda. It became evident in the hostility expressed by Trump supporters in the 2016 elections for instance; equally matched by the xenophobic rhetoric surrounding Brexit in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the passions raised by the issue of immigration (both legal and illegal) has led to the allegation of xenophobia being leveled at some by their insistence that an “Antiguans – First” policy should be adopted in hiring policies across the country.
To be clear, it might prove useful to examine the term more carefully. Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which one perceives as foreign or strange or at minimum unfamiliar. Xenophobia usually involves people in a position of dominance in a society or country reacting with suspicion towards the activities of others, usually minorities, immigrants, outsiders or “aliens” in some sense, whose presence or growth, it is feared, could cause a dilution or loss of national, ethnic or racial identity.
Xenophobia gets especially dangerous when it translates to a desire to eliminate the presence of these outsiders in order to secure the country’s (or dominant group’s) presumed purity.In the contemporary world, xenophobia arises in many societies, and particularly in democracies, when people feel that their rights to benefit from the government’s programmes, welfare benefits and job opportunities are being encroached upon by other people. By declaring these others to be less entitled to the benefits that are your right, the xenophobe provides a basis for discrimination against the outsider.
Two causes are put forward by theorists to explain the recent resurgence of xenophobic and racist movements. One is that new migration patterns that have developed. In the receiving countries, social groups in unfavourable positions in their societies resented newcomers as competitors for jobs and public services.
This cultivated a social and political climate that generated xenophobia and racism (defensive reactions against migrants), as well as nationalism (demands that the state provide better protection against foreigners for its own population).The second cause believed to reinforce xenophobia and racism is the backlash against globalisation, which has led states to reduce their social welfare, education and healthcare services in many developed and developing countries.
This reduction influenced in particular the segments of the population living on the margins of society. These groups are often in direct competition with migrants for such services and are the main breeding ground for xenophobia and racism.
Closer to home, one might examine the need for greater public education and awareness on regional integration and the rules, rights and obligations attached therein. In effect, are the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda acutely aware of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy? Freedom of movement of skilled nationals and the regional wide integrated labour market? It would appear from the more recent and ugly utterances in one online newspaper that it may not be known to everyone.
Globalization has changed the rules of the game. Labour Markets are now more interconnected and migratory flows of human capital (labour) will only increase. If Antiguans and Barbudans are to be prepared for this new reality, then there must be a re-education away from the entitlement of nationalism. Competition will be the order of the day and the best will compete irrespective of national boundaries. The beauty of this means that we will see the rise of many skilled sons and daughters of the soil in plush overseas jobs making an indelible mark on the world stage.
Equally, however, it means those who do remain within the country must be prepared to compete not just with locals for scarce opportunities but against others from abroad. Complaining ‘a yah me born’ will not work anymore. Our education system will need to be more deliberate and intense in training our people for this reality. This requires leadership from the top and those in charge must be clear: Xenophobia has no place in a civilized, decent, society.