Premier Donaldson Romeo Releases 2005 Letter to Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair Ahead of London Meetings
18th February 2005
For the urgent attention of:
Rt. Hon Anthony Blair, Prime Minister,
10 Downing Street,
London. SW1 2AA.
Re: Temporary Protected Status for displaced Montserratians in the USA
I am writing to you on a matter of utmost urgency concerning the 292 Montserratians who, starting 27th February 2005 are being denied further Temporary Protected Status (T.P.S.) in the United States of America. As of that date, 292 people, from babies to the aged, will be uprooted, yet again, from their schools, jobs and the care of relatives.
The only option your government has suggested for these Montserratians, is to be shipped, unassisted, 4000 miles across the Atlantic like so many bundles, to occupy hostels in Britain and be processed as refugees in a totally new environment for the third or fourth time in 10 years. Many would prefer to return to Montserrat but your Government has chosen only to invite them to migrate to Britain.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has claimed that it recently warned the United States Government about ‘the current lack of available housing’ in Montserrat. But has the United States Government been informed that the expression ‘the current lack of available housing’ is in fact a gross understatement of the facts? Has it been made clear to the American Government that in spite of the £250,000,000 said to have been spent on our tiny island of Montserrat over the past 10 years, more than 900 evacuees on Montserrat are still waiting for housing? Indeed, the housing crisis that forced thousands to flee Montserrat, and hundreds to go to the US, still persists.
Nothing makes the point more clearly than the inquiry of the British magistrate and jury into the death of 18 persons on June 25, 1997, when Montserrat’s volcano produced a massive eruption. In an effort to avoid any future recurrence of circumstances that might be prejudicial to the health and/or safety of the public, Her Majesty’s coroner Mr. Rhys Burriss highlighted responsibilities as per S 12 (1) (e) Coroners Act 1950, to the International Development Committee of the House of Commons, to the Government of Montserrat, as well as to the British government which has ultimate responsibility for the welfare of Montserratians.
“Montserrat has many needs consequent upon the volcanic crisis but none is more pressing than that for many acres of land to be acquired in the north for permanent housing and for houses to be built on that land, whether by the public authorities themselves or by private individuals assisted by affordable financial arrangements. This has been obvious since at least the autumn of 1996. Some efforts have been made in this direction but one has only to count the months since the crisis began – over forty, and note the fact that there are still approaching 400 people in the shelters, as well as hundreds more in overcrowded shared accommodation, and yet more in involuntary exile overseas, to see that the British Government response has been unimaginative, grudging and tardy.
It is still simply inadequate to the scale of need. I suspect that if he were here the Prime Minister might find useful one of his favorite adjectives: ‘pathetic’ to sum it all up. I hope that he will now take personal charge and instruct his officials that the necessary funds must at last be provided to enable sufficient land to be acquired for adequate and decent housing to be constructed.” ( Inquest conclusion, 31st December 1998 ).
In support the Jury added the following riders to their verdicts:
The evidence has proved to our satisfaction that after many of the people from the exclusion areas had experienced or observed the persistently deplorable conditions within the public shelters they refused to live in these places. Overcrowding, lack of privacy, poor sanitation, rowdy conduct by some individuals, exposure of children of impressionable age to crude and distasteful behaviour, possibilities for child abuse, the inability to properly care for the sick or disabled family members etc. were the reasons why many preferred to stay in their homes within the exclusion areas and risk the dangers of volcanic eruption rather than live in a public shelter.
It is clear from the evidence presented that the necessary response to improve the conditions in public shelters was ‘too little, too late and behind the curve of the crisis’. Thus, her majesty’s Government should have acted in a more positive manner to relieve this distressing situation. We believe it remains a matter of utmost urgency for the housing needs of the many who remain on island and who wish to return to at last be responded to with imagination and generosity. Only H.M.G. possesses the resources to do this.”
Almost 10 years, 2 different Montserrat Government teams, 4 British governors, 2 British Governments, and £250,000,000 later, little, fundamentally, has changed. The above statements, made over six years ago, are, alas, still pertinent to the situation in Montserrat. Volcanic activity has declined significantly, yet many cannot return to their homeland because the circumstances that caused them to flee persist, blocking their return. In addition, the economic and social survival of the Montserrat people in general must be taken into account.
Unemployment and the inadequate fulfilment of welfare needs influenced thousands more Montserratians to go into ‘involuntary exile’ overseas, mostly to England where their material needs are met. Of the approximate population of 4500, some 900 Montserratians on the island of Montserrat are still waiting for appropriate and permanent housing. The International Development Committee's call for an end to unnecessary bureaucracy and the provision of adequate housing as a matter of urgency has apparently fallen on deaf ears even after lives were deemed to have been lost as a result.
In the summer of 1996, a visiting British researcher warned representatives of the British Emergency Aid Department and the local Montserrat Government of the imminent man-made disaster at hand. She cautioned them that if monies were not spent quickly the socio-economic fabric of the Montserrat people would be severely weakened. To continue to delay and do little or nothing would be ‘the crisis before the crisis’ she insisted.
For ten years the British and Montserrat Governments have had the perfect means, motive, and opportunity to resolve the housing problems on Montserrat. How can one explain such a persistently and consistently ineffective delivery of aid in response to the very obvious and desperate need for housing? Can this really be the result of mere incompetence or indifference, or is there an unavowed but deliberate specific British policy to discourage Montserratians from remaining on or from resettling their island home? Can Montserratians be assured that this widespread conviction and feeling is unfounded?
I am not yet convinced that the British Government as a whole has ill intentions towards the people of Montserrat. Nor do I entirely excuse the Montserratian Government and people, yours truly included, for the many errors and lost opportunities to help themselves over the past dark but opportune years. In fact, great gratitude ought to be rendered to the many British representatives and citizens whose genuine and untiring efforts have resulted in many instances of excellent care and opportunities for Montserratians in Montserrat, Britain and elsewhere.
However, the point is that many believe that something odd is going on behind the scenes with the delivery of British aid. How does one spend £250,000,000 on a tiny 40 square mile Island and create poverty, insecurity and distrust instead of wealth, security and respect? Could it be that someone stands to gain by the collapse and demise of a struggling but safe and potentially self-sustainable and developing Montserrat? Surely those entrusted with the appropriation and delivery of British aid could not be so consistently and knowingly negligent and unimaginative. How else then can anyone explain why after spending £250,000,000, there is still such a persistent housing problem on Montserrat? As in times past, while the good name and purse of the British taxpayer suffers, a select few may stand to gain financially and otherwise by the undoing of a vulnerable people. I am sure you would agree that any such hidden agenda, if it exists, must be exposed and abolished.
I can only assume that, occupied as you are with more pressing business, you, as well as your party and its opposition must be unaware of the details of the Montserrat situation that you inherited in 1996. For this reason I have taken the time to provide for your scrutiny the supporting references labeled 1 to 9 (on pages 6 to 8).
In reality due to the way that the crisis was handled in its early years:
a. Hundreds of Montserratians were forced to take refuge in the United States and elsewhere
b. The mistakes made over years have meant that the acute housing crisis that forced people to leave has still not been resolved. As a result, those who would wish to return home cannot without a real prospect of appropriate and adequate housing.
I urge you, sir, to remember that you are not dealing with abstractions, but with 292 real, live human beings who are just beginning to put the pieces of their traumatized lives together in an unfamiliar culture, only to be told that they must start all over again in yet another location and culture for no other apparent reason than bureaucratic convenience for the British Government and America's evident ignorance of the facts.
It is my understanding that the U.S. Attorney General is authorized to grant Temporary Protected Status (T.P.S.) to eligible aliens who are nationals of a foreign state that is experiencing on-going armed conflict, environmental disaster or certain other extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent nationals or residents of the country from returning in safety. Would it not be fair to say that the extraordinary unavailability of housing is a temporary condition preventing 292 Montserratians from returning in safety to their homeland? Will the sudden return of 292 Montserratians not create an additional burden on the Island, as they compete for already limited space and jobs? Is there still an ongoing conflict between your government and that of the people of Montserrat? Can persistent gross neglect and political division amidst a volcanic crisis, intentional or not, produce the same results as ongoing armed conflict? Surely, the death by asphyxiation of 11 persons on June 25th, 1997 with the contributory cause avoidable negligence on the part of British and local Montserrat authorities needs to be taken more seriously. [Ref.6 pg. 7]
I appeal to you to:
a. Negotiate with the United States Government on behalf of the 292 Montserratian exiles for further amnesty that will permit a reasonable resolution of their future.
b. Prioritize the review of the Montserratian housing situation that continues to plague Montserratians desirous of returning to or remaining on Montserrat.
c. Establish a specific program to accommodate and assimilate any of the 292 Montserratians desirous of migrating from the US who may choose to move to Britain.
In conclusion, I strongly recommend that you and those under your leadership pay vigilant attention to the situation in Montserrat and the both brave and inspired recommendations of Her Majesty’s Coroner, Mr. Rhyss Burris quoted at length above. Sadly, sufficient attention has not been paid to the evidence upon which both Mr. Rhyss Burris and The International Development Committee have made recommendations. Taken together, especially in the light of the situation that inexplicably persists unchanged, the ‘involuntary exile’ of many Montserratians could seem as a coercive and/or forcible evacuation of Montserratians. But for the mercy and divine plan of God, Montserrat would have been a twenty-first century Diego Garcia. Surely such an evil should not persist knowingly and unchecked under your watch to produce another “Paradise Cleansed”.
I am confident that your intervention will make a huge difference and bring a speedy and favourable response from the U.S. Government on behalf of the 292 Montserratians threatened with expulsion from the United States of America with effect from February 27th, 2005. Please make use of yet another select window of opportunity to unite in partnership with the Government of Montserrat to rectify its chronic housing crisis and assume responsibility for the well-being of the people of Montserrat.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. ‘The enhancement of the People of Montserrat will enhance the good name of the British Government and People’. And, as the wise man says, “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches”.
I look forward to your prompt and compassionate response and wish you, your Government and people God’s wisdom and guidance in all undertakings.
I remain Yours Faithfully,
Cc: Baroness Amos, Leader of the House of Lords
Hon. Mr. Charles Kennedy, Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Hon. Mr. Michael Howard, Leader of the Conservative Party
Hon. Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London
Hon. Mr. Andrew Robathan, Member of Parliament for Blaby
Hon. Ms. Diane Abbot, Member of Parliament for Hackney
Hon. Mr. David Lammy, Member of Parliament for Tottenham
Hon. Ms. Jenny Tongue, Member of Parliament for Brent South
Hon. Ms. Oona King, Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green & Bow
Hon. Mr. Paul Boateng, Member of Parliament for Brent South
Hon. Mr. Piara S Khabra
1997 to 1998 & Present Chairman and members of the International Development Committee
Department For International Development
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
US, Secretary of State, Dr Condeleezza Rice
Congressman Major Owens, 11th Congressional District, Brooklyn, NY, USA
and 44 Congressional co-sponsors of Bills to adjust status of Montserratians
Senator Schumer, New York
Hon Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
Rt. Hon Lester Bird, former Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
Her Excellency Ms. Deborah Barnes Jones, Governor of Montserrat
Hon. John Osborne, Chief Minister of Montserrat
All of Montserrat's elected members of Parliament
Mr. David S. Brant, Former Chief Minister of Montserrat
Mrs. Vera Weekes, Assistant Director and Outreach Coordinator, Caribbean Research Center, Medgar Evers College, City University of New York
John Pilger, Freelance journalist ('Paradise Cleansed', Guardian Weekly 8th Oct. 2005)
Mr Leslie Goffe, B.B.C. Caribbean Report
Mr. Selvin Walters, Daily Observer, Antigua
The Antigua Sun
Ben Meade and Demon, Observer Radio, Antigua
Sly J., Radio Z D K, Antigua
Mr. Bennette Roach, Editor of the Montserrat Reporter
Mr. Herman Sergeant, Manager, Radio Montserrat
Other persons who I believe will be willing and able to support your efforts.
Enc: 3 pages with summary and supporting References
Ever since their volcano first erupted on July 18,1995 thousands of Montserratians have fled from their homeland seeking refuge overseas. The late delivery of British aid to facilitate the orderly evacuation of those living on the flanks of the volcano made matters even worse for people already troubled by constant eruptions.
A man-made disaster soon overtook the natural volcanic threat. The combination of the two finally caused the once close-knit Montserratian society to unravel forcing thousands of Montserratians to flea in distrust and panic to the neighboring islands of Antigua, St Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla, St Martin, Tortola and further to Britain, Canada and the USA.
Today, it is estimated that the 292 Montserratians in the USA would represent in numbers, only 4% of the 7,000 evacuees that have left Montserrat in the past ten years. Antigua hosts approximately 20% (1,500 evacuees). Over 50% (3,500 evacuees) moved to England. The remaining evacuees are shared between Canada and the Caribbean region.
Realizing that the circumstances which caused thousands of Montserratians to seek refuge abroad still persist, all host governments, with the exception of the USA have granted permanent resident status to all Montserratians, evacuees or not.
1. Extracts from International Development Committee, House of Commons Session 1997-98 Page xxx
‘................. We do not believe that the reasonable assistance needs of the Dependent Territories should be a first call on the development programme. Our responsibilities to Dependent Territories citizens are of a greater and different order to our more general humanitarian responsibilities to the developing world and involve different priorities. That should be recognised in the structure of administration and funding’.
2. Extracts from International Development Committee, House of Commons Session 1997-98 Page xiv
‘The findings of the Wadge and Isaacs Report were known in the scientific community because they had been published as a paper in an academic journal. It appears that none of our witnesses was aware of the Report until it was brought to their attention after July 1995. Mr David Taylor, Governor between 1990 and 1993, Mr Savage, Mr Rueben Meade, Mr Bertrand Osborne and Mr Brandt, successive Chief Ministers, DIFD and the FCO all denied knowledge of the Report before the volcanic activity began’.
‘Furthermore, throughout 1994 and 1995 earthquakes intensified in Montserrat. The Wadge and Isaac Report referred to previous such volcanic-seismic crises and stated, “These crises represent periods when the volcanic tried, but failed to erupt. Such crises will occur again. The next crisis should be regarded as giving valuable planning and preparation, at least of several weeks, before a potential eruption”. Not only did ignorance of the Wadge and Isaacs Report mean that Plymouth was redeveloped contrary to their advice. It also meant that no contingency planning took place in preparation for volcanic activity despite the specific recommendation of the Wadge and Isaacs Report that volcano-seismic crises were a vital warning of possible volcanic activity and should be acted on.
3. Extract from VDAP Information Update: Soufriere Hills, Montserrat, W.I.
Status of VDAP mission to Montserrat dated 11 September 1995
‘At the present time, Soufriere Hills volcano continues to have intermittent swarms of earthquakes located near the summit and nearby, and occasional steam eruptions that produce fells of fine ash in communities around the volcano. Changes are continuing to occur in the summit area of the volcano, including the appearance of new vents and increases in the size of vents that have been active during this period of unrest. Taken together, these developments suggest that magma is close to the surface under the volcano and that magmatic eruption is still a possibility; Nevertheless, authorities have cancelled the evacuation order for the southern part of Montserrat and, as of last week, most evacuees had returned to their homes’.
4. Extract from Soufriere Update 016 – Montserrat-Volcanic Eruption, DHA – Information Report No.13 dated 30 October 1995
‘Three months after the first steam explosion of the Chance’s Peak volcano, the volcanic activity in Montserrat continues, with less intensity. Registering a fluctuating but general modest number of local earthquakes and periodic small explosions of ash and steam’.
‘On 21 August 1995 a larger explosion took place generating a vertical column to 2,500 meters, part of which then descended as a cold ash avalanche upon the western flanks of the volcano, including the capital town Plymouth and neighbouring villages, triggering the evacuation of its 5,000 residents to the north of Montserrat. This situation lasted until the treat of hurricane Luis on 5 and 6 September 1995, when the evacuees moved back to their homes on the lower slopes of the volcano’.
‘The last significant event was the announcement on 25 September 1995 of the non explosive growth of a new lava dome at the western foot of Castle Peak, which itself was a recently pre-historic dome nested within the horseshoe-shaped English’s crater’.
‘Despite this changeable situation, schools and business reopened and Montserrat is back to its normal life. An information campaign, through the local media is being carried out, in order to adequately inform the population, on the current situation and the activities undertaken by the authorities’.
5. Statement for the Government of Montserrat from W P Aspinall for the MVO Scientific Team dated 9/6/97
‘A number of significant pyroclastic flows have already emerged from this dome, one of which (on 5th June) travelled 2.7km down Tuitt’s Ghaut. Earlier in the present eruption, pyroclastic flows from smaller domes above the Tar River valley have been sufficiently energetic to suggest that they could have achieved runout distances of 5km were it not for their being stopped by the sea’.
‘The MVO team consider that the most likely current outlook is that further pyroclastic flows will in time be generated from the northern dome, some of which may enter Mosquito, Tuitt’s and White’s Ghauts where their course and progress will be largely controlled by local topography. The MVO team feels that, for consistency, it will not be possible to avoid revising some parts of the current Zone C up to Zone B or Zone A equivalence on the risk map if, for instance, a single pyroclastic flow reaches the road bridge over Pea Ghaut. However, while the map remains in its present form, an immediate and appropriate response will also be required for areas below the bridge if, in a period of a few hours, two or more pyroclastic flows travel about 2km down Tuitt’s Ghaut (implying an increased chance of further unloading and a subsequent, bigger flow)’.
‘In the meantime, MVO monitoring and a presence at or near Bramble Airport may allow a hazardous event alert advisory to be provided to a nominated official at Bramble Airport, BUT IT MUST BE RECOGNISED THAT THIS NOTICE MAY BE AS SHORT AS 1½ MINUTES BEFORE THE FLOW OR ACCOMPANYING SURGES REACH THE LINE OF THE COAST, AND THAT ABSOLUTELY NO ASSURANCE CAN BE GIVEN THAT EVEN THIS SHORT WARNING TIME WILL BE POSSIBLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. There is, moreover, a very substantial concern among the team that, in an emergency situation with a pyroclastic flow approaching the airport area, one of their colleagues on station may delay extricating himself or herself from the area with suitable speed because of the predicaments of others nearby, thus becoming exposed to an unacceptable risk of personal danger’.
The MVO team also wish to have it on record that, as scientific advisors to the civilian authorities, they are not content to contribute to any radio or media discussion of the issues relating to the exposure of Bramble Airport and its environs without the involvement of an appropriate representative of the government.
6. Quoted from the evidence and conclusions of the inquiry by the British magistrate and jury into the death of 18 persons on June 25, 1997 when Montserrat's volcano produced a massive and fatal eruption.
The conclusions of the jury as to the death of 11 persons are namely:
(a) Alister Joseph, male, age 3 months; Alicia Joseph, female, age 23 years (mother of Alister Joseph);
Joseph Simon Tuitt, male, age 45 years; Rueben Boatswain, male, age 66 years, airport worker;
Death was caused by the natural catastrophy of volcanic eruption/pyroclastic surge. A contributory cause of deaths was the continued operation of the airport despite the elevated volcanic activity in the days immediately preceding 25th June 1997.
(b) Benjamin Joseph Brown, male, age 71 years, farmer.
Death was caused by natural catastrophy of volcanic eruption/pyroclastic surge. The contributory cause of deaths was the failure of the authorities both local and British to provide alternative lands in the safe area for farmers displaced from the exclusion zone and in addition the contributions in the public shelters were so deplorable that Mr Browne refused to turn to them after his initial experience.
(c) Felicia Celestin, female, age 45years, farmer; Alvin Allen, male, age 44 years, farmer;
Winston Allen, male, age 41years, farmer; Beryl Grant, female, age 73 years, farmer and huxter;
Philip Robinson, male, age, 66 years, farmer; Keith Ponde, male, age 71 years, farmer;
Death was caused by natural catastrophy of volcanic eruption/pyroclastic surge. The contributory cause of death was the failure of the authorities both local and British to provide alternative lands in the safe area for farmers displaced from the exclusion zone.
7. Extracts from International Development Committee, House of Commons Session 1997-98
Mr Frank Savage - First report Montserrat dated 18/11/97 pg. 97
“.............I wrote as early as 15th September 1995 to set out what I thought were the minimum requirements for the north of the island, and that included permanent accommodation for 1,000 people, a new hospital, a jetty, a police station with facilities”.
“............Indeed, had the British Government acted upon my recommendation and had the volcano not gone to that level of activity, I conceive there might be another inquiry here now asking what idiot spent nearly £10 million of British taxpayers’ money on something which was not required. So it was a tough call. As Governor I was always going to be ultra-cautious about the protection of Montserratians; I wanted to see, whether we were going to need it or not, facilities in the northern part of the island...........”
“............The aid programme now, I think, with a few exceptions, is going very well but it is 12 months behind the needs. In retrospect, had I got what I asked for (and I do feel strongly as Governor that not sufficient weight was given to my views) we would have had what we needed at the northern end of the island, but had the volcano not gone that far I would have looked very foolish”.
8. Extracts from International Development Committee, House of Commons Session 1997-98
The Long Term Development of Montserrat; pg. xxix
’...................... We are not in a position to comment on the viability of the island nor the possibilities for sustainable development. Any Plan must, however, take account of the continuing dangers posed by the activity of the volcano. The north of Montserrat is not perfectly safe, merely significantly safer than elsewhere on the island. At present all planning and commitment of funds must take account of the possibility that the north itself might have to be evacuated’.
‘The Sustainable Development Plan will need to take a realistic look at the prospects for the economy of the north. The Plan should propose development which can maintain a community on the island appropriate to current circumstances, in other words development which is genuinely sustainable. We have particular concerns at the prospects for employment and food production in the north’.
‘We are not arguing that any Plan should minimise the financial contribution of HMG. But some judgements will have to be made as to a sustainable population in the north of Montserrat. HMG says that it will pay the fares of any Montserratian who wishes to return. There must, however, be practical constraints which limit the number who can now live there. The Plan should thus be designed for such a sustainable level of population. It will also have to take account of the fact that we look forward in the longer term to a return to those parts of Montserrat at present evacuated’.
9. Extracts from International Development Committee, House of Commons Session 1997-98 Page xxxvii
‘This report has inevitably pointed out failures and mistakes. We wish to set that in the context of many hours of conscientious, effective and often dangerous work done by public servants, officials and volunteers. Above all we would praise the Montserratians themselves who have endured a great difficulty and loss with bravery and dignity. We hope that before too long a thriving and successful society will once more be established on the island (Paragraph 104)’.