Chaguanas – The Congress of the People (COP) notes with grave concern the ongoing wavering policy of the Ministry of National Security regarding the refugee crisis currently affecting our Venezuelan neighbours. Media reports have pointed to a substantial increase in the numbers of Venezuelan nationals attempting to reach our shores via boat since the announcement of the Amnesty and Registration process by the Minister which is carded to begin on May 31st. While we support the stance taken by the government in this regard, it is now becoming unclear as to what the definitive policy is regarding arrivals. Media reports have stated over the last couple weeks that vessels arriving to our known legal ports of entry have been stopped and told they were denied entry by our Coast Guard officials. However, media reports also state that dozens of Venezuelan nationals who arrived via an illegal port of entry and were detained yesterday, have since been released and will be allowed to stay and possibly register during the registration process as well. Is it that the Ministry of National Security has essentially developed a “wet foot-dry foot” policy regarding the admittance of these refugees? What message does this send to other potential refugees who are fleeing Venezuela? Is it that once they make it to shore via illegal entry before May 31st, they will be allowed to stay and register? Where is the Minister of Foreign Affairs in this deepening crisis?
The government has taken the right stance regarding the policy of registration of refugees but are taking the wrong approach in the handling of this sensitive national matter that affects not only these refugees who are in need of assistance but also affects the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. On May 7, 2019, the International Labor Organization (ILO) announced the launch of a new plan including a series of urgent interventions aimed at addressing the security, economic, and social integration needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Latin American countries. The ILO intervention is part of a broader appeal within the framework of the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan (RMRP), a multilateral plan to coordinate a regional response to the unprecedented and growing “largest displacement of population in the modern history of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
While the report acknowledges the largely cooperative response from the neighbouring countries hosting migrants, most of which have maintained an open-border policy, the increasing influx of refugees is straining national institutions and communities. In order to ensure migrants’ needs are met and that this burden does not foster greater xenophobia and anti-migrant attitudes in the host country, the plan proposes a holistic approach that ensures resources are used to benefit four categories of affected people: “1) Venezuelan refugees and migrants; 2) Refugees and migrants who were living in Venezuela and who are now returning to their countries of origin or moving to a third country; 3) Stateless persons, in particular, children born in a host country and who cannot access citizenship of that country; 4) Host communities.
The response envisioned in the plan is categorized into four areas of intervention. One of these is “direct emergency assistance” which includes all efforts to supply life-saving resources, including both food and non-food items as well as services such as shelter, health and nutrition, education, and legal assistance. Another area is “protection” which covers both physical protection and the enjoyment of rights and benefits. “Socio-economic and cultural integration” the third area of intervention, aims to ensure that migrants become self-sufficient and well-integrated, and that host country is tolerant and accepting towards them. The final area is “strengthening the capacity of host governments” which focuses on efforts to build the capacities of the institutions tasked with managing the influx and settlement of refugees and migrants from Venezuela.
In light of these new developing policies and systems that are being created in other host countries to treat with this worsening crisis, the COP calls on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Security to call all relevant stakeholders together and come up with a firm but adaptable policy that encapsulates all the various issues that have been created due to this lamentable humanitarian crisis. Starting with a clear immigration policy by the Ministry of National Security, a health access and education for children policy, a skills classification programme for employment of migrants in conjunction with the Ministry of Labor, a searchable online database for employers who may have need for migrant labor in skill specific settings for example chefs and especially in agriculture where labour is needed, a legal policy from the Ministry of Legal Affairs to inform migrants, who may get married here or have children born in Trinidad and Tobago, of their legal rights and lastly a national awareness progamme from the Ministry of Culture to allow for cultural integration and public awareness of the cultural differences that may exist between both countries. It is our view that this move will clear up any ambiguities that may exist regarding our foreign policy and serve to assist these refugees who need our assistance and support, and strengthen the various institutions tasked with carrying out these policies.