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Jamaicans in UK Enthusiastic about Diaspora Conference
LONDON (JIS)

There has been an enthusiastic response from Jamaicans in the United Kingdom (UK) to the Jamaica Diaspora Conference set for June 16 and 17 in Kingston.

Many have described the conference as a good move and expressed the hope that is was the first of several similar meetings.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson first announced the conference last August when he presented Medals of Appreciation to several UK-based Jamaicans at the High Commission in London. He said then that the conference would be used to develop a policy framework to protect the interests of Jamaican nationals overseas.

Three hundred adn fifty Jamaicans are expected to attend, including 60 each from Canada and the UK and 120 from the United States of America and 100 from Jamaica. A number of local agencies are expected to address some of the pressing issues and concerns that have been frequently raised by Jamaicans overseas.

High Commissioner to the UK, Her Excellency Maxine Roberts, said the Jamaica Diaspora Conference was a wonderful opportunity for Jamaicans living outside of the island to discuss the issues important to them "face-to-face" with Government Ministers, officials and their peers.

"The conference will offer to many of them the occasion to voice concerns, offer practical suggestions, and experience firsthand some of the many exciting new infrastructural, economic and social projects now underway in Jamaica," she said.

"Jamaicans overseas with their range of experience, skills and talent do have an important role to play in the island's economic and social development. The remittances sent by these Jamaicans make up a significant portion of the foreign exchange earned by the island. In addition, many individuals and groups provide vital funds, equipment and moral support to a variety of educational, health and social projects across the island," the High Commissioner added.

The new President of the Jamaica Alumni Association, Eroll Walters, said he hoped the conference would spell out programmes to encourage Jamaicans studying overseas to return home, as well as special programmes to encourage Jamaican professionals to participate in projects or give overseas-based Jamaican consultants preferential treatment.

"We want to see Government policy relating to top students trying to get them involved in Jamaica and letting them know how they can use their skills to benefit the country. We have many highly skilled, experienced Jamaicans who need to know how they can get involved in high-level projects in Jamaica," he told JIS News.

Chairman of the Jamaica Society Leeds, Travis Johnson, wants the Diaspora Conference to look at how Jamaicans overseas can lobby the Governments in their host countries to bring about changes and policies that will benefit Jamaica.

Paulette Simpson, Chief Representative for the Jamaica National Building Society in the UK, said the conference was an acknowledgement of the large contribution that overseas-based Jamaicans made to the country's economy, not just through direct remittances but also to the many social projects that they support.

"The conference is an excellent idea that should have happened a long time ago. I hope that the conference will develop a series of action points for delegates and other participants to go away and work with, because it will provide an opportunity for networking and for more information about economic and social development in Jamaica," she said.

Martin Blissett of the Afro Caribbean Resource Centre in Birmingham said he hoped the conference would come up with ideas to encourage participation among young members of the Jamaican community and to help them to become aware of their heritage. He expressed concern that many of the young generation were lost in England and had very little concept of their roots.

"These young people are lost and we run the risk of losing them totally. They have no sense of history of their heritage and culture, so I hope the conference looks at how to establish links and ensure that activities are in place to deal with this issue," he said.

Chairman of the Jamaica Basic School Foundation, Josephine Williams, said the issue of crime and its impact on ordinary Jamaicans should be discussed at the conference.

She told JIS News that the conference should also look at ways to make it easier for overseas Jamaicans to set up businesses in Jamaica and for young people to return home.