The Antilles are emptying themselves of their youth

Morne-a-l’Eau (Guadeloupe)

From our correspondent

In the small municipal park of Morne-à-l’Eau, as soon as the lessons are over, a group of young girls burst in, laughing. They could have been the future faces of Guadeloupe. Except that all are preparing to leave their native island. Clarodia and Stéphanie, 14 and 13 years old, will leave just after the patent, when Christina and Katy, 21 and 18 years old, in final class, are waiting to obtain the baccalaureate. “Everyone is leaving today”, loose Clarodia, in a tone of evidence. Pell-mell, young girls cite boredom on an island “too small”, “where there is nothing for young people”curiosity “to discover elsewhere”the studies that would be there “more and better”.

The population of Guadeloupe has lost an average of 30,000 inhabitants over the last ten years, when the French population is constantly increasing. “ This is mainly due to the departure of young people. Those who stay are less qualified and have fewer children, which accelerates the aging of the population.analyzes Philippe Winnicki, territorial head of the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Insee) in Guadeloupe.

It has just completed, at the end of February, a new census. The age pyramid no longer has anything of a pyramid: it takes the form of an hourglass with very marked hollows between 15 and 40 years, and “could become an inverted pyramid, with a majority of seniors, within a few years”adds Philippe Winnicki.

“It is a dangerous trend, which the authorities and fellow citizens do not take into account”is alarmed Yann Ceranton, founder of the Alé Vini association, which has been promoting, since 2019, the ” Come back to the country “. The issue, moreover, is not expressly mentioned in the brand new interministerial action plan for youth, which has just been presented in Guadeloupe (read the marks). “We are at the thinking stage”assured the prefect. “It’s an emergency”retorts Yann Ceranton: “The long-term risk is to see the West Indian identity and culture disappear. »

Each of the young girls will leave with the approval, even the pressure, of her family. “We have integrated the exodus of our young people as something normal and positive”, still analyzes Yann Ceranton. For a long time, this emigration was institutionalized. Between 1963 and 1982, the Office for the Development of Migration in the Overseas Departments (Bumidom) moved around 160,000 Ultramarines, in order to supply France with low-skilled employees. Better living conditions and a rapid social ascent were promised to them: in reality, integration often seems painful. Since then, the Bumidom has been replaced by the Overseas Agency for Mobility (Ladom), but “the metropolitan mirage has remained”, regrets Yann Cerandon: “We tell our children that they will do better elsewhere than here. » However, some sectors have major recruitment difficulties, such as accounting, catering, human resources, etc.

But the attractiveness of the territories declines with successive crises. Youth unemployment rates remain very high there (35% in Guadeloupe in 2020, 29% in Martinique), the high cost of living and numerous social inequalities. So that once gone, the expatriates do not return, or else at the age of retirement, or even a little before, in order to take care of the elders. Clarodia, Stéphanie, Katy and Christina also talk about their departure without mentioning a return: “I will sometimes come by for the holidays. But I don’t see myself making my life here.”reports Katy.

However, the desire to return exists, and has also gained in intensity during the Covid-19 crisis. Yann Ceranton counts about twenty requests for “return to the country” assistance every day: “It’s easy to leave, much more complicated to return. Many have founded families in France, they wonder: where to find accommodation on the archipelago, a good school to enroll the children in, a football club for their son…”


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