Immigrants feel the islands' pull

Nicholas Schoon reports from the conference of the Institute of British Geographers, being held in Newcastle
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The Independent Online
Up to a third of Caribbean immigrants to Britain are predicted to return to the islands where they were born, a researcher told the Institute of British Geographers' conference yesterday.

Dr Margaret Byron, a geography lecturer at Kings College, London, said about one-tenth of the immigrants had already returned to their birthplaces. But very few of their children born in Britain were interested in making a new life in the land where their parents were born.

Dr Byron, who has written a book on the subject, said the great majority of migrants from the Caribbean had intended to stay in Britain for five years, save some money and then return.

She quoted one from Nevis, in the Leeward Islands, who said: "We came to make a few pennies and go back - we didn't think it would take long."

Many of them left children behind, in the care of grandparents or childless sisters. She interviewed 110 couples from Nevis in the Leeward Islands, and found that 19 of them had left a total of 74 children behind.

When the West Indian immigrants arrived in their tens of thousands in the 1950s and early 1960s they could obtain only the lowest paid jobs. Rents were often relatively high - they mostly had to rely on the private sector - and it was difficult to build up savings.

The peak year for arrivals was 1961, and in 1962 the Government legislated to reduce the flow with the Commonwealth Immigration Act, allowing in only dependents of those already in Britain. By 1971 there were 304,000 Caribbean-born migrants in Britain and in 1991 this number had fallen to 265,000 due to returns and deaths, although by then many had raised children born in Britain.

Dr Byron told the conference, in Newcastle, that many of the migrants were reluctant to return because social services in Britain were better than in the Caribbean, and because after 30 years' absence they could no longer be sure their relatives would support them in old age and infirmity.

Their state pension rights were a further disincentive. But although most would stay, the number of returnees was rising. "The group you have to watch are those now aged 45 to 64, who now dominate the Caribbean-born migrants," she said. ``I think the bigreturn is still to happen among those people.'' Her survey of 110 couples from Nevis found only half had enough money to fly back to the Caribbean and buy a plot of land or a home. Dr Byron was born on Nevis and arrived in Britain to go to university atthe age of 18. She said cheaper international phone calls and flights allowed many migrants to keep in close touch with their families and relatives without needing to return permanently.

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