Premier Fahie was at the time summoned before the UK-sponsored Commission of Inquiry on Monday, October 11, 2021, when he was questioned on the issue of Belongership.
The Premier made the point that Belongership was intended to bring some balance to the British Nationality Act, which has caused many persons born in the Virgin Islands to be stateless.
He then further delved into areas where Caribbean people and people of African ancestry were wronged by the UK but there is no CoI into those atrocities.
“You have been commissioned by the Governor to do a CoI on terms of reference that are specific, so Sir Gary Hickinbottom, you have to do what you are commissioned to do, but who do we commission for reparation? Who do we commission for slavery? Who do we commission for Windrush?”
The Windrush Scandal in 2018 saw hundreds of Caribbean immigrants living and working in the UK wrongly targeted by immigration enforcement as a result of the government’s “hostile environment” policies.
Premier Fahie said the VI has no rights to commission anyone to get justice.
“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. 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?”
Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom, Commissioner of the CoI, said he had to focus on his terms of reference, which did not include what the Premier was asking.
“You will appreciate that my terms of reference are, in that respect, very narrow. In terms of Belongership, I am looking at the process, that’s what we are looking at and these wider issues which are sensitive, some of them are very difficult, but I understand that you feel very passionate about them. But they fall entirely outside my terms of reference; it isn’t to say that I am not sensitive to them, 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, Belongership falls into that category and also in relations to serious dishonesty in public office.”
Premier Fahie also accused the UK of double standards, saying, “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 exists in the UK’s own statutes in the British Nationality Act, 1981.”
The Premier said because of this Act, which is also implemented in the VI, thousands of children have been made stateless because the current Act dictates that if a child is born in the UK, that individual can only apply for citizenship if one of their parents are already a UK citizen in the UK or in one of the Overseas Territories.
There are exceptions if a newborn child is found abandoned or if the parent is serving in the armed forces.
Honourable Fahie said in the territory, the Belonger status seeks to provide a balance “and 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.
“We know that this is not a court, it is an inquiry but based on when you go through our laws you will say what you see to you based on the evidence, what is lawful and what is unlawful and then you do a report but the very entity that you turn in the report to will have a decision to make to implement some of your recommendations from that report,” he said.
Premier Fahie has always advocated for the Caribbean people to unite and this was also evident when one of the first things he did as Premier in 2019 was to boldly ensure some 1500 persons, including Caribbean expats, were granted Belongership status, having lived and worked in the VI for 20 years and above.
On April 28, 2019, in Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis where he was the Keynote Speaker at the People’s Action Movement’s (PAM) 54th Anniversary Convention, Hon Fahie said now more than ever the Caribbean region must think of ways to implement regional unity if it is to succeed as thriving economies in the future.
“For unity to succeed there must also be trust and mutual respect. Too many times in the Caribbean we spend more time tearing down, than uniting. We have to understand in this coalition, none is more important than the other. But you are not the least either, you must demand respect and you must give it,” Hon Fahie told those gathered.
“I come to you today as a friend, and as an observer, but also too as a member of the wider Caribbean fraternity… I come to you also as one of the strongest believers in regional unity, and so I also want to allude to the concept of unity on a regional basis,” he said.
According to Hon Fahie, for Caribbean leaders to truly deliver on the promises of a better way for its people, “there is no better way than to act as one united Caribbean.”