What do Jersey and Singapore have in common, apart from the facts that both are islands, and both have important financial services industries? Another important similarity is that both are multi-racial or multi-national communities.
After its separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore took a conscious decision to acknowledge its ethnic minorities and build a multi-racial polity. It could have been very different. 75% of the population is Chinese and the remaining 25% are Malays, Indians, and others. Yet Singapore’s leaders chose English rather than Chinese as the language of government and education, and protected the rights of minority communities in law. Multi-racial harmony “remains a work in progress” according to Singapore’s High Commissioner in London, but racial and religious conflict has been avoided.
Such conflict has been avoided in Jersey too, but it cannot be denied that more could be done to encourage Jersey’s minority communities to participate and to feel included in civic life. The number of non-British residents has grown steadily and now, in 2021, nearly 25% of our population comes from or has roots in other European countries, the most numerous being from Portugal, Poland, and Romania. Other smaller minorities come from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Yet until very recently, they had no representation in the States and it is thought that few vote in Island elections.
More needs to be done, in the view of the JLC, to acknowledge the contributions made to national life by minority communities and the social and cultural value that they bring to Jersey. The ArtHouse project for Portuguese, Polish, and Romanian artists in early 2022 is an inspiring example of what can be done. Perhaps an Assistant Minister could be given responsibility for community relations. That would at least put the existence of these communities on the Government’s radar. The unfortunate Covid-19 decision in December 2020 to ignore the importance of Christmas Eve to Polish Catholics by prohibiting large family gatherings on that day while allowing them on Boxing Day, was careless of the interests of an important section of our community.
Respect for the different traditions of the disparate parts of our broader society is part of the glue which binds all Jersey people together. All those who have made their homes in Jersey have a stake in the Island’s future. They need to feel valued both as individuals with such a stake and as members of whichever community in which they are rooted, whether that be native-born Jersey, English, Scottish, Portuguese, or Polish. There is no inconsistency between feeling a sense of identity with one’s country of birth and a wish to feel part of one’s country of adoption. That is how nations develop a cohesion which leads to a sense of inclusion and well-being.