Fueling a fresh debate about whether children should be granted citizenship if they are born locally, minister responsible for youth affairs Myron Walwyn yesterday lamented that even an international organization has raised concern about the treatment being meted out to children born to expat parents in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).
Walwyn expressed outrage as he noted the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) concern about the fact that some children are likely to be left ‘stateless’.
With the report in hand, he read: “Children born in the BVI of non-BVI parents are mainly considered as temporary migrants, faced restrictions in the enjoyment of their right, and can be stateless if they cannot obtain the citizenship of the country of the origin of their parents.”
Taking a break from reading the UNICEF report, the minister declared: “You understand what UNICEF telling us here? This is a terrible indictment on the fabric of the society in the Virgin Islands, and we have to do something about it.”
Walwyn, who has raised concern about the issue on numerous occasions, told his colleagues in the House of Assembly that the matter should be addressed now.
“I will bark by myself if I have to, but this is a matter that needs to be addressed and addressed urgently. Nation building is not about concrete; nation building is about people. You cannot build a country with a significant portion of your population unrepresented, uncared for, unrequired and deemed as stateless if they can’t get a passport where their parents are from. I want to rest this on the conscience of the members of the honourable House,” Walwyn further said after he read other sections of the report.
Another section of the UNICEF report says: “As clearly stated on the BVI Immigration Department website, if a child is born in the BVI and the parents are not citizens or Belongers, they are required to apply in writing to the Immigration Department for permission for the child to reside. The immigration laws do not automatically grant any rights to such persons born in the territory.”
The report cited by the minister is entitled: Current State of Legislation in the Eastern Caribbean and British Overseas Territories from a Children’s Right Perspective.
Adding his voice to the reignited debate, Deputy Premier Dr Kedrick Pickering said he too has raised concern about the ‘thorny’ issue on several occasions. He said he is willing to help address the matter.
Premier to ‘continue’ working on it
Premier Dr D Orlando Smith, in the meantime, said he is committed to addressing the issue. He however highlighted the fact that there are legislative hurdles to be overcome.
“There are the questions of children being born in the BVI of non-BVI parents; this is something that has been raised several times. Honourable Dr Pickering said he has raised it several times – [it] is a matter of course that we must deal with. There are some provisions in the British Nationality Act and other piece of legislation, which we must look at and decide how we are going to go forward with this matter.”
“I think it is something which concerns all because, as the member who raised it – the Honourable Myron Walwyn says, when you are building a nation you have to build the people. .. I do agree on that basis and will continue to work on that,” Premier Smith further said.
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