AS our borders begin to reopen to international travel, and our hospitality industry continues to struggle for staff, it is likely that we are going to soon see an influx of new arrivals moving – or returning – to Jersey from other countries.
Just as has happened for centuries, some of our Island’s industries rely on immigration and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, we need to finally get a population policy in place and work out how we are going to plan for the needs of future Islanders based on how many we think there will be.
But too often our conversations about immigration and population are about controls, limits, access to housing, work and benefits, and not enough about the actual people who want – or need – to call Jersey home.
Jersey has had this problem for decades, to the point that, I am told, many living in our minority communities today still do not feel a true part of our Island community.
They view the government and its systems with distrust, and therefore are even less likely to engage than everyone else – which is saying something when the rest of us aren’t great at it to begin with.
And this extends into all areas of life.
Take, for example, vaccine uptake and the concern raised earlier this year during a meeting of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell that ‘participation [in the vaccination programme] by Islanders of Portuguese and Madeiran descent has been relatively low’.
Portuguese and Madeiran respondents were also said to be ‘more hesitant’ to have the vaccine, according to the survey results, with no significant differences noted in Polish, Romanian or other European groups.
Additional research with the Portuguese and Madeiran community to ‘explore the hesitancy around the vaccine was felt to be of use’, according to the minutes, which also noted that ‘communications to dispel the myths around the vaccine would be beneficial for all Islanders’.
Turnout at elections is often low among our minority communities, with many choosing not to vote not because they don’t understand or didn’t see the posters written in their own languages but because of this distrust. Why would they want to get involved in a system which still feels closed off to them, often unwelcoming?
It is only natural, therefore, that some of these people – even those who have lived in Jersey for years – keep themselves to themselves in their own micro communities.
Our Island could and should be doing better to welcome new arrivals, and to make them and others who originally hail from other countries – no matter how long they have been here – feel a valued part of our community.
Assistant Chief Minister Carolyn Labey recently launched the Island Identity project, exploring the different elements that define Jersey and how these can be ‘recognised afresh, nurtured and celebrated’.
One key thing which makes Jersey Jersey is its people – and most of us have links to other places, no matter how long we have lived here. Whether those links are to Breton workers, French refugees, Italian chefs, German soldiers or to Madeira, Poland, Romania or others, our roots are spread far and wide.
And that is not forgetting the large numbers of people who move or have moved over the years to Jersey from the UK, myself included.
Our Island – because it belongs to all of us – is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures, of backgrounds and experiences, of heritage and languages. Yet we are all a part of what makes Jersey’s identity.
And although it will not be able to capture all of those links, the results of the recent census should help to paint a picture of the cultural make up of our society.
With that information, plus work under way on our ‘identity’ and celebrating it, the timing is right to take this conversation even further.
We now also have a Housing and Communities Minister in Deputy Russell Labey, the first time the word ‘communities’ has been part of the title.
So let’s make a real effort to not only engage with the very many micro communities that make up our Jersey but to find ways to develop a true sense of Island community that everyone can feel a part of.
It will not be easy, of course. And it would need to be an ongoing policy priority interwoven across departments and organisations rather than a one-off ‘just for show’ effort with a snappy catchphrase and some marketing materials.
Other countries plough millions of pounds a year into settlement programmes to assist immigrants to overcome barriers to allow them to engage in all aspects of life in their new home, from cultural and social to civic and political.
The Government of Jersey has a team which helps new or prospective employees from other places to relocate to the Island, even setting up school places and house viewings if required.
They offer advice and support about all sorts.
Now, I’m not suggesting that system is rolled out to all who move to Jersey, it wouldn’t work or be affordable. But it is time we thought about what we could offer, and beyond that how we can continue to engage with Jersey’s minority communities to break down the barriers.
There may be such efforts being made piecemeal in small pockets across government departments, and elsewhere. And there are some excellent private charities and organisations who work with communities in Jersey in this way.
But there appears to be no overarching plan to bring it all together, no political oversight or policy and little vision about how we could be doing this so much more effectively.
Jersey is about a lot more than its cows, potatoes, Jèrriais and the Battle of Flowers, it is the people – all of us and wherever we originally came from – who make it truly special, and we should embrace that.