Julia Sutherland

Deputy High Commissioner, Jamaica

Part of UK in Jamaica

2nd July 2013 Kingston, Jamaica

Scattering and Gathering: Thoughts on Diasporas

I’ve always liked the word ‘diaspora’, which comes  from Greek and means scattering or dispersion.

Before I came to Jamaica I thought of the Diaspora as referring mainly to the worldwide Jewish community.  And indeed, that community is represented here, with its roots in the immigration from Europe of those forced to convert to Christianity at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

For those in Kingston, I’d recommend a visit to the historic synagogue on Duke St, still complete with its sand floor. In the adjoining grounds are fascinating memorial slabs, many in Portuguese and Hebrew, representing descendants of those ‘conversos’.


But as a diplomat in Jamaica, when I hear the term diaspora, it is usually in conversation about people of Jamaican origin living overseas. According to one estimate, there are in the region of 800,000 people living in the United Kingdom wholly or partially of Jamaican origin. There are sizeable Jamaican Diasporas also in Canada and the USA.

I recently attended a big Diaspora gathering,  the 5th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference held at Montego Bay, organised by the Government of Jamaica. The Government considers the Diaspora as a key pillar of its foreign policy, and this event was testament to the importance it attaches to engaging with members of the Diaspora Community and taking on board their views in developing Government policy.

The Prime Minister and other Cabinet colleagues participated, and the several hundred Diaspora representatives entered energetically into debate.


A focus of the conference was trade and investment. It was great to meet two British based people (Beverly Johnson of JLB International Limited and Michael Kane of ISOCON)  who have been instrumental in a success story showcased at the event.

ISOCON-JLB   have set up a Tank Cleaning Depot Facility in Kingston, servicing the Caribbean.  This means that tankers used for shipping rum and other bulk liquids can now be cleaned in Jamaica, rather than this having to be done outside the region.


Both the ISOCON-JLB presentation and the Conference as a whole showed me how Diasporas have a huge role to play in enhancing bilateral relations between countries.    With a deep understanding of different cultures, they can identify and develop links to mutual benefit.

1 comment on “Scattering and Gathering: Thoughts on Diasporas

  1. Great article and thank you! It is indeed a proven fact, that “wherever there exist an unfulfilled need, there exist and opportunity.” The Diaspora is a sound platform of cultures, minds, ambitions and people coming together! Thank you for your organization’s support of the Diaspora!
    Beverly Johnson
    Isocon-JLB International Ltd

Comments are closed.

About Julia Sutherland

Julia Sutherland arrived in Kingston in October 2012. This is her first posting in the Caribbean. She joined the Diplomatic Service in 1995 and has previously worked at the British…

Julia Sutherland arrived in Kingston in October 2012. This is her first posting in the Caribbean. She joined the Diplomatic Service in 1995 and has previously worked at the British Embassy in Beijing and, most recently, the High Commission in Singapore. Her assignments in the UK have included periods working on China issues and on EU policy, and a stint as Private Secretary to the Minister for Trade. She has also spent time on secondment to the Home Office, where she worked on Immigration issues. Julia has a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering from Cambridge University (Christ’s College, 1995).

In her spare time she enjoys cinema, cooking and travel. She is married to Dr Duncan Sutherland, an historian.