Darcus Howe explains empty seats on Air Jamaica

The bastards whom Jamaicans in Britain are happy to see deported

A few days ago, I found I had misplaced my national insurance number during my house move from Brixton to Streatham. Mrs Howe dropped in at the local social security office with my passport and a letter addressed to me. A simple procedure, we thought. The clerk refused to give her the number. "You could be anybody," he barked.

I had to go there in person. A young woman politely interviewed me. She scrutinised my passport, glanced up at my face. The beard on the picture had gone. "This does not look like you." "Look again," I replied. She copied pages from the passport, went on to the computer, wrote my number on a sheet of paper and that was that. But I was made to understand that there is a huge trade in NI numbers, particularly among recently arrived Jamaicans, nicknamed "Yardies". Hence her caution.

I remember having a discussion with a couple of Yardies some years ago and they were contemptuous of those of us who had settled here. We were "idiots", they thought. Scams were so easy here and the authorities so lax that they could get away with just about anything. A hitman could commit an execution on a Monday, get on a plane and return the following day under another name. Another might arrive at Heathrow to be met by a compadre with an NI number, new identity, etc, and be employed immediately.

Most of this activity turned on the informal economy in Jamaica, which accounts for 45 per cent of that island's economy. Planes arrived at our airports packed with drug mules, the numbers much too high to police rigorously. This movement of people and their social behaviour alienated fellow Jamaicans who had long settled here. Blood flowed like Evian water.

Now the shutters are down. The Foreign Office has demanded that all who come here from Jamaica should possess a visa, to be had only from the British High Commission in the country of origin. The requirements are forbidding. The talk in the ghetto is that Air Jamaica now arrives with only 35 per cent of the seats taken. And the planes return nearly full with deportees.

Co-operation between Scotland Yard and the Jamaican authorities is such that there are police stationed at the high commission in London. Jamaican cops mingle in places that Yardies are known to frequent. There has hardly been any protest from our local Jamaicans. The slogan is "sen' back dey rass". Loosely translated as "deport the bastards".

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2003 issue of the New Statesman, What has America ever done for us?