Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The migration of Black people from the Caribbean to Europe

The Windrush generation in Britain
Between the 1950ties and 70ties many black people from the former Caribbean colonies of Britain and the Netherlands and from the overseas territories of France moved to Europe. They thought they were part  of the 'motherland', but they soon found out the reality in Europe was different.  

United Kingdom

"Windrush: The generation that arrived in the 1950s and 1960s from the Caribbean resolutely gave their all for Britain but were in many ways failed by the nation," wrote the Daily Mail.

The mass immigration of black people from the Caribbean to the Britain started with Windrush in 1948. Right after the war many Caribbeans who had fought in WO II grabbed the chance to come back to 'motherland' since Caribbean countries suffered high unemployment, while in Britain there was a shortage of labour.

The BBC made a documentary about the Windrush. It is a 4-part series of one hour television documentaries originally broadcast on BBC2 in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the Empire Windrush, the ship which brought the first wave of post-war West Indian immigrants. The series was also accompanied by the book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise Of Multi-Racial Britain. Check out the some very good documentaries below. But the documentary also shows the problems which came afterwards.

Video: Part 1: Arrival (30/05/98)

Part 2: Intolerance
Part 3: A New Generation
Part 3: A Very British Story

Playing the race card is documentary series which takes a look at the history of race relations in the UK since the 1950s and influences of this on the politics of race as well as on government policy. See part 1 here


For France the immigration started in 1962 with BUMIDOM, a controversial institution which was created by the French government in 1962 to supply the French industry with cheap labour from French Overseas Departments. The migration was controversial because people were offered a good future, but instead, regardless of the level of their education, they were put to work in menial jobs.

Another part was these black people from the Caribbean were confronted with racism and were treated as second class citizens, which often lead to a psychological confinement. Late French Poet Aimé Césaire compared this migration to a deportation.  

In the early 1960s, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion are in crisis: unemployment plunges a large part of the population in poverty, rapid population growth threatens the islands, the independence movements flourish. Youth is boiling and revolt is simmering. To lower the pressure, the French government finds a solution: Bumidom. The program is supposed to empty colonies and use the young people to address the shortage of labor in mainland France state-owned companies. It offers a one-way ticket for housing and employment opportunities for young Caribbeans and Réunionnais in exchange for their departure. Believing in the promise of a better life, more than 160,000 men and women between 18 and 25 years will pass through its structures. But many of them have have the feeling of being displaced, exploited and cheated.

By entering today's intimate world of these uprooted families, the film tells the iconic and unique experiences of the men and women of Bumidom ". See video below.

About the BUMIDOM French Misha M wrote a comment on Afro-Europe, she wrote: "My mum is one of those Caribbeans that came at the end of the sixties through what was called the BUMIDOM. Basically France paid thousands of cheap passages through 6 months of a bad boat trip, so people could arrive and be exploited as third category citizens and cheap labour. The way there were treated on arrival and the fact that the situation didn´t change for many years after, changed this generation for ever. They did lost their identity and pride or part of their dignity and weren´t given the opportunity to have a real and positive assimilation. I´m like many other, the daughter of that generation, and what we learned from the difficulty of our parents is not to make much noise, always know our place in society and of course don´t dream too high and too loud. Because even if we were given access to a good education we knew that after all, we would be confronted to a institutional racism (under the table, not spoken or in your face but real ) that would not let us pass from the service job sector."

See the story Le Bumidom et "les faux-monnayeurs du césairisme"

Video:  Black France The immigration problem Episode # 3

Also see:
Black France Conflicting identities, Episode # 1
Black France The battle for social justice Episode # 2

Update: The documentary Black France (in English) about the immigration of French Afro-Caribbeans and Africans to France, part 1,2 and 3

The Netherlands

Surinamese people in the Netherlands in 1975

For the Netherlands the mass immigration started in 1975 when Suriname became independent . Many people didn't had much faith in the economic future of the country.  From the former Dutch Antilles the ‘mass’ immigration started in 1985 when the big oil refineries on Curacao and Aruba closed down their operations . The former Netherlands Antilles are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

An interesting chapter about the Surinamese migration to the Netherlands states," At the time of independence, in 1975, Dutch subjects living in the colony of Suriname were given the choice of Dutch or Surinamese citizenship. Amazingly, 200,000 out of a population of 450,000 left Suriname for the Netherlands – a level of migration that is staggering in size and scope. Today, the population of Suriname has rebounded to roughly 450,000, while 300,000 people in the Netherlands trace their ancestry to Suriname. While only 2% of the population of the Netherlands is Surinamese, 40% of the Surinamese population lives in the Netherlands."  Roughly 50% of the Surinamese population is Afro-Caribbean.

If you want to find out how the Surinamese population has integrated in Dutch society read the article 'Race in the Netherlands: The Place of the Surinamese in Contemporary Dutch Society'

Surinamese people arriving in the Netherlands around 1975

I've translated what is being said in the video, you can read the transcript below.

"Airplanes from Paramaribo [the captital of Suriname] bring many weeks per month overseas citizens from warm Suriname to a gradually colder Netherlands. They leave a country where 25% of labor force is unemployed and where life, also due the inflation, is becoming increasingly difficult . Their Dutch passport garentees them acces to our country.

When they where not picked up by family or friends, the Surinamese are transported by bus to one of the shelters for overseas citizens.

The adults tired from the flight are paying little attention to the passing scenery . That that they are driving through the Bijlmer most of them don't seem notice. [The Bijlmer used to be the Surinamese district in Amsterdam.]  

But the kids experience the first meeting with the new country as an adventure journey of discovery. We follow this mixed group of Javanese, Chinese and Creoles and Hindustani to the central shelter in Soest.

Immediately after arrival a procedure of registration and information starts about the rights the families enjoy in our country, then clothing and footwear is handed out, which should provide protection against the changing climate in the Netherlands. This usually means an encounter with mostly unknown garments. But these clothes are only provided to people who do not have the means to purchase them themselves. And they are far in the majority.

In the shelter, people can only stay briefly, because it must stay open for the almost daily stream of newcomers, which slowly begins to look like refugee stream . The final housing also provides problems.

Dutchman (3:24) speaks to new the arrivals. "I am going to ask you where you want in live in the Netherlands in the future. You have to think about that. but on thing. You can not life in Amsterdam, You can not life in The Hague, not in Rotterdam and you can't life in Utrecht. These places are chock-full."

(2:30) And meanwhile Suriname empties out. Now that the date of independence is coming closer  the uncertainty about the political situation drives many people out of the country. From the money obtained by the sale of their possessions many pay the passage to the Netherlands for themselves and their families. In the last few months mostly members of the Hindustani (East Asian), Javanese and Chinese populations are migrating to the Netherlands. But also among the Creoles there is still interest in the Netherlands, which at least gives them a piece of social security. The interest manifests itself most clearly at the passport office in Paramaribo, where hundreds daily apply for the important identity document.

And once the passport is there and the magic fly ticket is somehow obtained they go on their way to the Netherlands. More than one-third of the Surinamese population will have to manage themselves later on in the cool Netherlands."

The Antilleans or Dutch Caribbeans

Multicultural Netherlands: Today, many individuals from the Dutch-Speaking Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten immigrate to the Netherlands to find jobs, complete their education, and lead a better quality of life. Since these Antillean islands are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it is relatively easy for them to immigrate to the Netherlands. Most Antillean immigrants in the Netherlands originate from the island of Curaçao.

Check: Short films: struggling sisters in "Our Rhineland" and Black disillusion in Notting Hill


  1. I love, love your blog! Thanks so much for posting this!


  2. "They thought they were part of the 'motherland'?" What a rude awakening they must have experienced when they found out the true intention of Europeans.

    By the way Erik, I am so glad you continued with Afro Europe. What you are doing is very valuable to many, please do not forget that.

    1. Laura thanks for your kind words, but I am moving towards the end, Moving towards the end of Afro-Europe Blog

    2. I am sad that you are nearing the end. Your blog was so educational and helped bridge the knowledge gap of blacks in the diaspora. I thank you for all you did and I am glad you said goodbye this time.

    3. Again thanks the compliment. Yes a proper goodbye was needed. I see you have been following the blog. :)

  3. Thank you for the link to the BBC documentaries. They allow me to gain a greater insight into my fathers past in the UK.

  4. there had such a classic BBC documentary. this is very informative affairs about migration of Black people from the Caribbean to Europe. thanks for sharing.

    Employment Pass Singapore | Entrepreneur Pass Singapore

  5. Excellent Material. History repeats again and again: white wins while black loses. When is this evil cycle going to end? are we ever going to have a chance to redeem ourselves and live decently? I mean , not rich with mansions like white guy, but at least decently and with our dignity respected and in its proper place.

  6. I really liked these videos especially the Dutch and French one... And, it's really sad seeing black people suffering from discrimination for decades...

  7. Please don't take this the wrong way (as on the whole I enjoyed your piece), however I must flag up the error in your first paragraph.

    "Between the 1950ties and 70ties many black people from the former Caribbean colonies of Britain and the Netherlands and from the overseas territories of France moved to Europe."

    The line that , in my opinion, should be used is: "black people from what are now, former Caribbean colonies".

    The reason I believe this distinction needs to be made is that "Independence" in the region, Haiti aside, did not actually begin until the early 60's. As such thos who migrated to their respective "Motherlands" were subjects/citizens of those lands. i.e "British,French,Dutch" West Indies.

    I raise this point because the current narrative gives the impression that those migrating were not nationals of the countries they were migrating to. It is that distinction that brings about a bone of contention when immigration is discussed in Britain, by those who migrated before independence was gained by their country of birth. i.e. new migrants are (for some) viewed as affecting their , and their family's prospects. The same line used by White Britons in the Windrush years, and by many Britons, and far rightgroups alike.


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