By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
We have been used to hearing about Mauritians migrating to more developed and prosperous countries for economic reasons and job prospects: the one-way out of Mauritius is the norm. We hardly give a thought to why people from other countries would like to make a far-flung island in the Indian Ocean their home. What is likely to motivate them?
This is not about people who are so desperate that they would cling to the wheels of Air Mauritius planes in a frantic desire to flee from hopeless gloom and doom situations. Nor is it about the paradisiacal islands of innocent and candid natives living in lush natural surroundings, a vision that defines the imaginary ‘other’ of Europeans inherited from Rousseau’s 18th century view of faraway tropical places. The idealistic perspective has lingered on till modern times, though. An English lady I met abroad in the 1980s went lyrical about Mauritius during a conversation. Her parents lived in Mauritius during the colonial era. Fond memories made her say: ‘I would like to die in Mauritius one day.’ What a bizarre idea, another person observed, if you like the place, then you should rather wish to live and enjoy life there and then lie down under the ground for ever. Never mind.
We have been used to hearing about Mauritians migrating to more developed and prosperous countries. We hardly give a thought to why people from other countries would like to make a far-flung island in the Indian Ocean their home. What is likely to motivate them? Pic – Outlook
Enjoying life here is what many European retirees do for six months of the year. Sunny weather, white sandy beaches, drinks with other fellow retirees at the nearby bars and occasional group trips around the island; the cool attitude of locals makes life good for them. In January 2018 at Mon Choisy beach a group of young men were relaxing under a tree with a crate of beer besides them. They invited an Englishman in his sixties to join them; in fact, we were all invited. The visitor could not believe his ears. Never, he said, do young men in Britain invite elderly persons or strangers for a drink. It was January 1st, and the Mauritian lads could not go home and celebrate with their families as they were working at a hotel nearby. ‘Come on, have more drinks, let us celebrate, they merrily invited us. We sat down, celebrated and chatted for a while.’ The Englishman and his wife were deeply moved and got emotional. Tears welled up in his eyes every time he evoked those moments during his stay. ‘It is a unique experience I will never forget,’ he said. What we take for granted may appear as a high human quality to others.
Economic development in the 1990s drew highly qualified young men to try a work experience in Mauritius. Their professional background and know-how gave a boost to newly set-up local companies. In some cases, once the companies started to thrive and prosper, the foreigners were unscrupulously thrown out by their Mauritian employers and partners. They left Mauritius in bitter disappointment. Others who wished to settle permanently took a fancy to local girls and embarked on matrimonial plans. Something which prompted the erstwhile Prime Minister Jugnauth Snr to remark ironically in Parliament: ‘Mauritian girls have suddenly become attractive!’
As from 2003 South Africans gladly took advantage of Integrated Resort Schemes and other real estate projects to sell away property in South Africa and invest here. Insecurity, economic instability, rampant crime, anti-White violence alienated them from their homeland. Mauritius looks like a peaceful haven to them. Last year in the early morning at La Cuvette beach, a South African national was wading in the water with his child. “You can never do this in South Africa,” he said. ‘It is too risky and unsafe there.’ The climate, foreign-run private English language schools, a peaceful multi-ethnic society with cleavages which allows them to live separately and socialize with their own kind like the local Whites, the French touch and fairly modern amenities are all that appeal to them. Student visa is another means for young South Africans to fulfil their Mauritian dream and stay in Mauritius till they find jobs.
However, you do meet foreigners who figure out the security issue before investing and living here. Insecurity in Mauritius makes them opt for Reunion. A successful French businessman who invested and set up business found that the employees working on computers were apathetic and lacked initiative. The maid took showers in his bathroom in the Rs 120,000 bungalow he rented by the seaside. She told him straightaway that it was normal for her to do so. He decided Mauritius was not his cup of tea. He closed down business and left. Not to mention regular visitors to Mauritius who vow never to go back after being robbed in their rooms.
Conversely, besides the 15% tax incentive on companies, other foreigners are put off by the mindset of workers like in France, for example, where employees suddenly resign and leave employers in the lurch, knowing that immediate unemployment benefits keep them going without working. Security and peace are other reasons. owing to terrorist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany. They are put off by the disruption of social harmony, religious fundamentalism, incivility in public places and transport, drug sales and petty crimes among migrant youths in broad daylight and such ills plaguing European societies. A quick search on internet gives little hope to Europeans with no inflated bank accounts to live and work in Mauritius.
In the region, Madagascans would gladly move here if doors were open to them. Some of them who work in factories in Mauritius are degree holders. Those you meet around doing ordinary jobs are very happy to enjoy a decent life. Moneyed people in Reunion buy apartments to escape property tax, and also to settle after retirement. A predominant presence of people of Indian origin and their culture in Mauritius appeals to Tamilians and Muslims of Gujrati origin who quite like life in towns like Beau Bassin, Rose Hill and Quatre Bornes. There is no doubt that the atmosphere of an oriental culture widely prevailing in Mauritius is what they miss in Reunion. But the strict requirements of Mauritian laws are obstacles to settle in Mauritius.
Needless to say that not only economic reasons but modernity and safety prompt Bangladeshi workers to try and stay here for longer periods. Illiteracy, backwardness and violence prevailing in their native land are no incentives for a voluntary return. Some of them seek to contract ‘white marriages’ with Mauritian women to get the right to live here. Nepalese and Sri Lankans blend in effortlessly; there are far too few of them. You do meet Indian workers who find life boring in Mauritius. Others dream of staying longer, mainly for economic reasons. Indian doctors and engineers are well integrated in society. A common opinion is that people who are lucky to be born and to live here must have a good karma. Young Africans working in construction business, private companies and small hotels from Nigeria, Congo or South Africa seem to appreciate the opportunities given to them. Surely, many others would like to come in greater numbers.
Locals might think otherwise during hard times. Today there is a more nuanced view of greener pastures on the other side of the fence. The way out to other places for better opportunities especially during uncertain times pops up as an inevitable alternative to ambitious career-minded qualified young adults. So is the case in other countries as well. The bigger picture is that Mauritius has a number of assets that make life here attractive to outsiders who wait to fulfil their dream of living in the island.
* Published in print edition on 27 August 2021
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