Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie has defended the territory’s position on granting belongership to non-locals who have contributed to the development of the British Virgin Islands.
During his appearance before the ongoing UK-backed Commission of Inquiry
) on Monday, October 11, the topic of belongership was raised, and the methodology was being scrutinized.
In an unexpected speech which spanned over 15 minutes, Premier Fahie
told the CoI
team that this topic appears to be constantly targeted by the UK.
“This brings the question of Belonger status that I have been hearing a lot on, but we have concerns that this must be balanced, and I must ask Commissioner that you add this in your report. While some officials in the UK paint Belonger status in the Virgin Islands
as a mortal sin, they cast a blind eye to the double standards that exist in the UK’s own statutes in the British Nationality Act 1981 and even recent UK government policy,” he said.
He continued: “And let me state why… because under the British Nationality Act, we have seen more stateless children have been created.”
He pointed out that a child or person born in the UK can only apply for and seek British citizenship if their mother or father are already a British citizen settled in the UK or one of the qualifying territories.
said further provisions are made if the child is a newborn and found abandoned or if the parent is serving in the armed forces, which are all methods used to limit persons born in the UK from receiving automatic citizenship.
He said he brought this up because some UK Parliamentarians are fine with the UK’s laws on the issue but have an issue with the BVI’s laws, “while the British is seeking to hold the Virgin Islands
to a standard that the British itself refuses to adhere to.”
He said thousands of children have left for other places because of this legislation, “and our policies seek to help with some balance. Because everyone asks, why can’t we get a passport? It is because of the British Nationality Act, which is a legal document but highly if I say so lacks balance in terms of equity.”
He asked Commissioner Sir Gary Hickinbottom
to balance the BVI’s Belonger status against the British Nationality Act, against windrush, slavery and reparations.
“Notwithstanding the UK’s refrain that we are all one family, the fact is we are not viewed equally, we are not treated equally. Often we are treated as second class and not afforded the full measure of respect. We are subject to double standards, and Belongership is just one issue where it happens.”
He said it was “wrong to scandalize the Virgin Islands
for having an immigration and citizenship policy when we are not the only country in the world to have one.”
“Yet the UK sees it fit to dictate to the Virgin Islands
people how it should manage their patrimony and rights to their land and how Belonger status should be managed, and this is why the UK doesn’t want anyone to tell it how it should regulate its granting of British citizenship. Does that really sound fair to you commissioner?"
The Premier added, "I came here to defend what we are doing for our people and what we are doing for our Caribbean brothers and sisters who have been unfairly treated through Windrush, through slavery, and have not been through reparations.”
In response, Sir Gary explained that this was not part of his terms of reference but that the CoI
is sensitive to the issues.
“They may be relevant background to the report, but what I am doing in the report is looking at two things, firstly governance, the way the state decisions are made and implemented, Belongerhsip falls into that category and also in relation to serious dishonesty in public office."
Sir Gary added, "neither of those two things, are part of the very important things that you’ve raised, but what I need to do is focus on my terms of reference, modest as they are in [comparison] to these things you’ve raised, but I am going to focus on my terms of reference.”
replied that while he understands, he would like to know, “who do we commission for reparation? Who do we commission for slavery? Who do we commission for the Wind-rush? We don’t have any rights to commission anyone to have these things done. These are century-old debates, and we cannot do it because the entity that sent you is larger than us, and there is no law that allows us to look into areas that concern us with them."
The Territory's leader said, "so when this is finished, yes, you would have completed your terms of reference, and while I am concerned about the tenants of the terms of reference, but that’s nothing for you who’s going to look out for us?”
In the past the matter has been widely debated by former legislators, the late Hon. Mr. Omar Hodge, Dr. Kedrick Pickering, Myron Walwyn and even Premier Fahie
, during his days in the Opposition, has been clamouring for change in that area.
According to the 2007 Constitution, “For the purposes of this Constitution, a person belongs to the Virgin Islands
if that person—(a) is born in the Virgin Islands
and at the time of the birth his or her father or mother is or was—(i) a British overseas territories citizen (or a British Dependent Territories citizen) by virtue of birth, registration or naturalization in the Virgin Islands
, or by virtue of descent from a father or mother who was born in the Virgin Islands
; or (ii) settled in the Virgin Islands
; and for this purpose “settled” means ordinarily resident in the Virgin Islands
without being subject under the law in force in the Virgin Islands
to any restriction on the period for which he or she may remain, but does not include persons on contract with the government of the Virgin Islands
or any statutory body or Crown corporation."
Even the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) report has in the past flagged the system, pointing out that one of the most significant gaps in the protection of human rights affects migrant children and those born in the BVI of non BVI parents.