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Concern raised about tension, abuse of expats in BVI

An international organization said expats have raised concern that they are being abused especially at the workplace more often than reported in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), adding that there also is an issue with tension in the territory.

The tension exists between expats and natives of the BVI, said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a 2016 report that was tabled in the House of Assembly a few days ago.

“Despite a substantial presence of immigrants in the territory for many years, there is an implicit tension between those who ‘belong’ to the British Virgin Islands and those who do ‘not belong’. Sometimes, this tension is not so tacit,” UNICEF said.

It made reference to a section of the BVI’s Social Sector Report and Implementation Plan 2011, which reads: “Social tension is evident in everyday life as BVIslanders and non-BVIslanders attempt to peacefully co-exist. The issue of BVIslanders and non-BVIslanders needs to be decisively resolved in a just manner, since the impacts are felt in all the social services, inter-personal and inter-group, and intra-community relations.”

UNICEF, in its assessment, stated that the tension in the territory leads to the exclusion of expats from different areas of the society.

“This tension leads to the unspoken exclusion of non-belongers in different aspects of the society, and in public services and public jobs offered by the government. With few exceptions that include some health, teaching and police jobs, most government managerial jobs are filled by belongers. Belongership also determines the access that families have to social welfare benefits and to the right to vote and buy land,” UNICEF further said.

Abuse

The international organization, in the meantime, noted that migration has always been a reality in the BVI, adding that “about half the households have at least one member who has migrated in the past”.

But UNICEF said a number of expats who live and work in the territory have complained about being abused, especially by employers.

It explained, “A work permit is not an authorization for the person (expat) to work in the territory; rather, it is an authorization for the person to work in a specific job, for a specific person or company. Moreover, the permit has to be renewed annually.”

“According to the [UNICEF] interviewees, employers use this [work permit] process to justify low salaries and hide abuses committed against non-belonger employees. For example, interviewees said that sexual abuse and violence against non-belonger women by employers is more frequent than is reported. However, victims are afraid to come forward since their permanency depends on a good relationship with their employer,” UNICEF further said in its report entitled: Situation Analysis of Children in the British Virgin Islands.

UNICEF noted that BVI belongers usually have United Kingdom passport that ‘facilitates’ their migration to other countries such as Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

On the flip side, other people come to the BVI due to socio-economic reasons, UNICEF said.

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