“If we send the message across the channel to Venezuela that you are free to come to Trinidad by the thousands because the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and the courts of Trinidad and Tobago will protect you, what you think is going to happen?” It’s a question put out by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to the citizenry yesterday.
As citizens, we need to consider whether we really want to open ourselves to a flood of migrants at a time when the country is hard-pressed enough to meet the needs of its own citizens.
The frank talk from PM Rowley on the troubling Venezuelan migrant issue comes amid a legal battle for the state to stay its hands on deportations. Caught in the middle are a number of children who have little say in their futures.
What is even more alarming, as Justice Frank Seepersad noted, is that those who claim to care for these children do not see the danger in putting them on pirogues for the journey to T&T.
Justice Seepersad, known for his frank speech, was clear that the state had the right to deport illegal migrants. The Prime Minister also reminded citizens that this country did not have restrictions on Venezuela until recently, because of the potential of being swamped by large numbers of people that would create bigger problems we have not even thought about.
The issue of migrants is not an easy one for any country and nations far bigger than T&T with far more resources face similar issues.
Justice Seepersad, in his judgement in a case involving an 11-year-old Venezuelan, said it was the Government’s right to change its policy due to prevailing circumstances, including the pandemic. Further, Justice Seepersad noted that the 2014 Draft Policy on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which is being used in arguments by lawyers for the migrants, was approved by Cabinet but not Parliament.
A change in the policy was not “irregular or unreasonable,” Justice Seepersad argued, although he noted the way in which the state sent migrants back was enough to make those responsible “hang their heads in shame” and it should not happen again.
But this ruling is just one and there other cases before the courts.
However, it is clear is T&T cannot continue to open its doors to those who can easily make the seven-mile journey by sea to get here in the hope they would integrate themselves into the society.
Noting that there is a “brazen and bold disregard for the immigration laws of this Republic” by those who put life and limb at risk to enter the country, Justice Seepersad also offered, “There are many citizens in this Republic who are faced with difficult economic circumstances and they too may wish to go to another country where the economic prospects are brighter, but these citizens should not be entitled to be refugees or asylum seekers seeking status under the 1951 Convention.”
That, quite frankly, is something we all should think about.