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Crossing Continents Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 09:09 GMT
Turks and Caicos: Has Britain broken its promises?
Sunset over sea
The islands boast the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean
Claire Bolderson

There are signs that in attempting to shed the role of imperial ruler, Britain is failing in its legal duty to uphold human rights in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The tiny Turks and Caicos Islands lie at the end of the Bahamas chain.

Wealthy investors deposit their money in the island's off-shore banks.

Well heeled Americans and Europeans either live in luxury villas that line the shores of the main island Providenciales or stay in one of the growing number of luxury hotels erected on the miles of unspoilt pristine beaches.

The islands boast the fastest growing economy in the Caribbean thanks, in part, to one key selling point.

The islands are a British Overseas Territory and it markets itself on the security and stability that the title "British" bestows.

But behind the affluent veneer lurks a different story.

Derek Ingham, Head of the Immigration Task Force
The Immigration Task Force chief burns illegal migrants' boats
Questions are being asked of Britain's promise, in the British Overseas Territories Act of May 2002, to improve human rights and good governance in its remaining outposts of empire.

Schooling denied

Haiti, 90 miles to the south, is the source of nearly all manual labour on the islands.

Haitians build and service the tourist industry and many have been living in the islands for years.

But this year when dozens of children of Haitian descent tried to register for school at the beginning of term, they were turned away.

They did not have the "appropriate documents".

Children used to be listed on their fathers work permits, but suddenly, many have been deleted.

Schoolgirls
Church halls act as temporary schools
Even some of those whose parents have been naturalised as citizens in the islands suddenly have no clear immigration status.

The children are banned from going to school.

Deprivation

Tucked away barely 50 yards from one of the biggest hotels on Providenciales Island is "The Bight", a Haitian community shanty town built on the side of a small rocky hill.

Whole families of six or seven live in a single room in cramped plywood houses. There is no running water and only intermittent electricity.

These people are not illegal immigrants.

They pay for their annual work permits and even make national insurance contributions.

But the Turks and Caicos government, fearing a growing tide of boat people from a deteriorating Haiti, stop them putting down roots.

Even those who have been there for years, building large houses for north Americans and Europeans, or working in hotels, never know from one year to the next whether their permits will be renewed.

Young girls
For many children, the only school is Sunday-school
The Turks and Caicos Islands want foreigners but also want to dictate the terms.

They often complain about being "out-numbered" so immigration rules keep changing.

Our research shows that decisions on who should be allowed to stay are arbitrary at best.

For Haitians without the correct documents, deportations are almost instant with no chance of appeal.

Fear

Getting residents to speak on the record is difficult.

Even the richer, mostly white, foreigners with successful businesses and money in the bank are nervous.

Only promises of anonymity and name changes persuade people to talk.

They all fear government reprisals.

One young Haitian woman said her nervous boss rang her as soon as she knew she was going to talk to the BBC to tell her "be careful what you say."

Church congregation
Prayers and faith sustain Haitians through troubled times
"Freedom of Speech is not protected here," said one local priest.

Through the Governor of the islands, the Foreign Office in London is responsible for external and internal security and for the police.

But in a prepared statement, they say: "Immigration is a matter for the islands own government."

A request for an interview with the Foreign Office was turned down.

The new schools policy in the islands contravenes international treaties on the rights of the child which Britain has signed.

But, it is difficult to persuade officials in London of seriously undemocratic practices in a territory that flaunts its "British" name.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Rufus Ewing
"When they don't receive a certificate of medical clearance - they are repatriated"
Tommy Coleman
"I sailed in here and stayed since January 1966"
Patricia Duff
"Some people are afraid of speaking out"
Correy Forbes
Traditional 'Ripsaw' music of the islands
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23 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
27 Nov 02 | Americas
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.


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