The much admired Ian McDonald, among others, has recently called for Guyana to admit Syrian refugees on humanitarian grounds. A favourable official response must be a part of a larger strategic agenda.
Most Guyanese understandably expect their government to address the several economic and social woes that deny them a decent standard of living. High crime, unemployment, inadequate housing and electric blackouts are but a few of these damning problems.
The acceptance of Syrian refugees would arguably place additional demands on already insufficient budgetary resources. As painful as this prospect might be, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive immigration policy.
That policy must be driven by the recognition that immigrants actually cause economic growth. They tend to be risk takers and have added to the national output wherever they have settled. Caribbean migrants to the United States and Britain are prime examples.
The central plank of Guyana’s immigration policy has been the acceptance of skilled Caricom nationals pursuant to its obligations under the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME). Not many of them have settled in Guyana. And those who did, have not been necessarily entrepreneurial.
Guyana with its natural resources and larger land mass than its Caricom neighbors must be informed by considerations that advance the national interest of the country. Compassion for the plight of those torn from their homes by war and intractable conflict is one such factor.
But there are refugees running from war in Somalia, South Sudan and northern Africa and closer to home, Haitians, who continue to suffer the effects of fratricidal political battles and inhuman economic conditions.
The refugee authority of the United Nations states that there were 38 million displaced persons ten years ago. Today that number is estimated to be 60 million.
Guyana in seeking to alleviate this growing global challenge must be guided by its best interest. The country’s economic well-being, political stability and security concerns must predominate in any decision to accept refugees from Syria or Haiti or any country. There is much idle land to develop. With the population growth rate in the negative for the last five years, Guyana will not have enough people in the near future to utilize available land for productive purposes.
The Ministry of Citizenship is a welcome and useful governmental tool in screening persons entering the various ports. Its mandate should be expanded to include the admission of refugees and other immigrants, who after meticulous screening, are deemed beneficial to the development of the country.
It is time to craft a comprehensive immigration policy to attract persons who can assist the country’s inexorable march to a better life for all Guyanese.