A sense of belonging not universally shared
The 20th Kappa Classic has passed having been declared a roaring success. The organisers accommodated a greater turnout by including an additional day to the start of the tournament and have hopes of reigniting international interest to make Bermuda’s greatest festival of youth football even bigger and better.
They have even got a grip on overly exuberant parents and supporters exerting too much pressure on their children and match officials, thus causing unseemly scenes at what in essence should be a festival of fun.
Amid this welcome success has been the seamless appearance of those who qualify as having belonger status.
Seamless. Transparent. No fuss. Shared prosperity. The way it was meant to be.
It is only when such hoped-for collaboration is transferred to adulthood that the situation becomes politicised and messy.
When the Chief Justice of Bermuda ruled last December that two young swimmers who had known only this island as their home are to be treated equally to those with Bermuda status through birth, where it pertains to eligibility for national selection, it set off a firestorm of debate.
Quickly, the arguments moved away from sport and on to immigration — Bermudians versus non-Bermudians, blacks versus whites, Progressive Labour Party versus One Bermuda Alliance. Gerrymandering.
Votes, votes, votes.
Those with the loudest and most persistent voices seemingly cared little about the feelings of the many young people caught up in this god-awful mess of belongership.
The Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association has still to properly come to grips with the situation after the ruling and it is Ben Smith’s curse that he must perform the multiple role of national coach, selector and politician — a thankless juggling act destined to end in tears for souvenirs instead of medals.
The belonger issue is a subset of a wider immigration concern that this country desperately needs to address.
The efforts of a working group have stalled in the attempt to move the country forward, with Bermuda all the while falling farther and farther behind, the emotional toll laying the foundation for sustained enmity in years to come.
Chamber of Commerce president John Wight wrote in these pages this week, as he and others have done previously, that population growth is inextricably linked to our prospects of long-term economic revival and success.
There are too many factors working against us at present for the dead ends that proposed reforms have led to for them to be seen as acceptable:
• Population exodus
• Ageing population
• Declining birthrate
• Retail sales in a ten-month downward spiral
• An annual average double-figure death rate on our roads — with three already in 2019, we are on a path towards extending an unwanted statistic that has been sustained for nearly two decades
This without considering a murder rate that is unacceptably high for a jurisdiction this size.
When Michael Fahy launched Pathways to Status, there was uproar. The country literally stopped for the best part of a week — and even before that troubling period in our history, there was disruption during the proposed consultative process.
There was “No, no, no”, there were marches, there was defiance, there was anger.
But the former Minister of Home Affairs was not that far off the mark that one or two tweaks to his and the OBA’s initiative could not fix.
That was three years ago!
When the OBA government, in conjunction with the PLP, in conjunction with the People’s Campaign — now exposed as a moribund organisation that went into self-imposed hibernation immediately upon the change in government — declared that the country was going back to work, there was much triumphal fist-pumping.
“This agreement gives us everything we’ve been calling for,” said Walton Brown, who is believed to be the chief orchestrator of the original “No, No, No” protests and who would become home affairs minister in the wake of a landslide election victory that for ever will be recalled as 24-12.
“We will shape that consultative committee. All of us who worked so hard, and you the people, have made this possible.
“This is what we wanted. This is what we demanded. All the power is with the people.”
In May 2016, a ten-man Consultative Immigration Reform Working Group headed by William Madeiros was set up to review and propose amendments to the Bermuda Immigration Act 1956.
Within 18 months, it had delivered its report to albeit a new government with a view to legislation being tabled that would put Bermuda in a better, more progressive place.
For even Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security who replaced Brown as the minister responsible for immigration four months ago, has accepted that movement in that space is urgently required.
But more than 12 months have passed since the report was delivered, and those who have been left in limbo are becoming more and more disenfranchised, some facing the inevitability that they soon may have to leave the only home they have known.
Such a conclusion is counterproductive and opposite to what we should be aspiring to.
Caines has said that legislation is targeted to be brought before the Houses of Parliament in July.
We wait with bated breath.
In the meantime, notwithstanding that it is right for us to be concerned about the economic impact of not attracting immigrants and returning Bermudians to our shores, those who are already here but have been made to exist as “less than” continue to suffer an uncertain and unhealthy future.