Keima Allen is a community activist, an HR and employment specialist, and a former Honorary Secretary of the Erith and Thamesmead Conservative Association.
The devastating effects of Hurricane Irma on the Overseas Territories have revived memories of the British Government’s handling of the volcanic crisis in Montserrat 20 years ago.
It broke my heart when my family lost our livelihood as a result of the volcanic eruption. Following the mandatory evacuation, we were crammed into schools in the northern side of the island, and received support from well wishers from the United Kingdom, neighbouring islands, various international organisations and countries around the world. After sometime living in the school, which became known as a ‘shelter,’ the UK and local government offered the people of Montserrat a ‘voluntary evacuation package’ to those wishing to resettle in the UK or neighbouring islands. Many of us decided it was best that we relocate to the UK with our families.
Throughout the relocation process, the UK Government was criticised for its management of the volcanic crisis in Montserrat. Twenty years on from the volcanic crisis I hear of the same sentiments – but this time in relation to other Overseas Territories who have experienced some of the worst devastation as a result of Hurricane Irma.
It seems to me that history is once again repeating itself, with criticism of the Government’s delay in responding to the plight of the Oversees Territories, namely Anguilla, Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgin Islands. I question some of the comments I hear spouted in the British media, and wonder whether some people are aware of the UK Government’s constitutional responsibility to these British Overseas Territories.
Leading charities have also complained that the UK Government’s response to these Overseas Territories, ravaged by Hurricane Irma has been slow, and that, since that these islands have an affiliation to the UK, they find it tremendously difficult to source aid from other countries.
It is quite clear that a discussion needs to be had about whether the Department for International Development (DfiD) should continue to be responsible for the Overseas Territories. I put to you that were a different department directly responsible for the Overseas Territories portfolio, these recurrences would most likely be avoided. In addition, gone would be the claim that British Citizens are only expatriates from the UK residing in these Overseas Territories. Instead, it would be clear that all citizens living, working and holidaying and holding a British passport are indeed British citizens.
In addition, after 20 years, I am unable to report that Montserrat has rebuilt its hospital, or that there is a new port or adequate transport infrastructure. My concern is that, as things currently stand, the same may be said in 20 years’ time about the Overseas Territories that have suffered as a result of Hurricane Irma.
In the meantime, what I can say is that many people from Montserrat, like myself, were given the opportunity to relocate to the UK and to rebuild our lives. Similarly, I believe the same opportunity should be afforded to the British Citizens on the islands affected by Hurricane Irma. One way to ease their relocation to the UK would be to suspend the two-year Habitual Residence test on British Citizens living abroad. It is about time we foster a grown-up partnership with the Overseas Territories, in light of recent events on the islands.