By Dr Dhanpaul Narine
Guyana is an anomaly. There are more Guyanese living abroad than in Guyana. It is recognized that the Guyanese diaspora has tremendous resources.
The Diaspora Conference sponsored by the University of Guyana broke new ground. It was the first gathering of persons from different backgrounds, and on such a scale, to discuss the impact of the diaspora on national development.
It was fitting that the representatives of the highest levels should address the Conference. The Mexican and Indian top diplomats to Guyana outlined their country’s approach to the diaspora.
One reason for this is that India and Mexico have two of the biggest diaspora populations in the world and Guyana can learn from them. The Mexican Ambassador Mr. Ivan Roberto Sierra Medel and the Indian High Commissioner Mr. V. Mahalingam were most instructive.
According to a 2016 study, India’s diaspora grew by over 60 percent in the last decade. It is estimated that over 32 million Indians live abroad. This is followed by Mexico where the figure is around 30 million persons. The other countries that make up the top ten include Russia, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ukraine, the Philippines, Syria and the United Kingdom.
The release of the 2016 figures prompted the United Nations to remark that ‘well- managed migration brings important benefits to countries of origin and destination, as well as to migrants and their families.’ Mr. Medel said that there are millions of persons of Mexican origin living in the United States. People have been moving from Mexico for the last hundred years. They have traditionally provided labor for other countries, particularly the United States.
In the late 1980’s the United States, under President Ronald Reagan, granted amnesty to millions of Mexicans. There were large communities in California, North Carolina and other places. Ambassador Medel pointed out that after 9/11 there was a shift in US immigration policies as, “Mexicans found it difficult to cross the border due to a step up in security. In 2017, we have 12 million Mexicans living in the US and around 7 million have proper documents. We have to provide consular protection for them.”
Mexico is also a transit point as many persons from Latin America use it for immigration to the US. Diaspora engagement for Mexico then is very important. A serious engagement took place in 1990 when the President of Mexico put in place a program for Mexicans living abroad. In 2003, President Vincente Fox decided to establish a permanent agency to look after Mexicans abroad. President Donald Trump has promised to build a wall to keep away Mexicans from entering the US but this is opposed by Mexico.
There are 61 Consulates in the US; one of their tasks is to encourage persons to learn English so they can get their GED in the US. Health is another area that needs to be addressed and the accessing of community clinics is important. The Ambassador said the Mexican diaspora has information on more than 100 different kinds of services that are available.
One of the many services that are offered extends to children. Each year, children from around 70 countries send their artwork on various aspects of Mexico. This helps them to connect to the country and there are regular tours as well. Mr. Medel then turned his attention to the 3- for-1program. The diaspora’s efforts have given rise to Hometown Associations. Some of the projects included the paving of streets and other amenities.
What is good about the program is that the Federal government is matching the dollars raised in the diaspora. In 2016, more than 600 hometown associations participated in the program. It built confidence among the Mexicans abroad.
The Indian High Commissioner Mr. Mahalingam is a seasoned diplomat with experience in several countries. He has been in Guyana for the last three years as High Commissioner. He said that engaging the diaspora is an art and that India understands it. The first wave of mass migration from India took place 150 years ago, and later after independence, to the Gulf countries.
India has defined its expatriate population in two categories. They are non-resident Indians (NRI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO). In commenting on Guyana Mr. Mahalingam said, “I would like to refer to Dr. Dhanpaul Narine from the NYC Department of Education who spoke at the inaugural session of the Diaspora Conference. Dr. Narine said that Guyana should call its diaspora PGO’s or Persons of Guyanese Origin. I think that’s a very good idea.”
The High Commissioner defined who is an NRI. He said that NRI’s move out of the country for work or to do business and still continue to hold Indian passports. The PIO, on the other hand, are those Indians that have obtained citizenship of another country. India does not permit dual citizenship but, unlike other countries, understands the geographic distribution of its diaspora.
There are millions of Indians in West Africa, North America, Europe and in Western Asia. Myanmar and Malaysia have 5 million Indians between them. Indians in North America are highly qualified while those in West Asia are semi-skilled or unskilled and hold Indian passports.
Indian consulates have been mandated to study the diaspora communities in various countries. In 2003, India started the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas to celebrate Indians abroad and it’s done in January 9th to honor Gandhi. In 2017, the format was changed to enable sustained engagement with the diaspora and persons of exceptional merit were honored with the India Diaspora Excellence Award.
Why celebrate the diaspora? Mr. Mahalingam said that the 32 million Indians in the diaspora play a great role ‘and most of them are disciplined and law abiding’ and over the last five years the remittance to India has been around $69 billion.
According to Mr. Mahalingam, “there was a time when India used to be worried about the brain drain but today it’s different. India is looking toward brain gain.” India has recently embarked on a program that is called ‘Make in India.’ This program focuses on the setting up of business and technology in the country and it has removed much of the red tape.
The diaspora has been invited to ‘clean Ganga’ and former students of educational institutions are asked to help in a number of projects. Mr. Mahalingam makes the important point that the “youths of today are totally disconnected from the ancestor land. India has spent a lot of money to promote the arts and culture among young people.”
India uses a ‘Know India Program’ to good effect. This means that young people from abroad are taken on tours to understand the country and to reconnect with the places of their ancestors. Social media is used to the fullest to promote India. Clearly, countries such as Guyana can learn from the Indian and Mexican experience.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.