The international spotlight is now on Trinidad and Tobago in light of the situation involving a group of 28 Venezuelan migrants deported last weekend. Perhaps what made it more difficult to understand was that the group comprised 16 children – among them a four-month-old baby.
In August last year, the T&T Government, in the face of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, kept its commitment to a registration process for nationals of that country who had sought refuge on our shores. This country showed it had the will and heart to deal with our neighbours in crisis. Those 16,523 Venezuelans registered in that process have been able to access jobs and health care alongside other benefits of living in T&T.
This should not, however, mean there is a bottomless pit and that whenever a Venezuelan national feels like it, they can get into a pirogue with children and come to T&T in the hope they will be allowed to stay.
While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Venezuelan opposition, Penal Forum and a coalition of 16 NGOs condemn the T&T government, with the latter group urging the group be allowed to stay pending applications for asylum, there is no mention of who on the other side was culpable for putting the children in such a dangerous and traumatic situation. Yes, the jury is out on whether the children should have been sent back – that cannot be right, no matter how you look at it. Nor can it be right that having arrived at La Barra, in Venezuelan waters, the group could then simply turn around and return to Trinidad.
Yes the T&T Government has a lot to answer for in this matter, for surely there has been a clear breach of our commitments to international resolutions we are party to.
But no matter what language you speak or what nationality you belong to, an abuse of children’s rights is intolerable.
No one is blind to the fact that what has unravelled in Venezuela in 2020 lies squarely on the shoulders of the Nicolas Maduro regime. Ironically, in the face of this current humanitarian crisis, Maduro was celebrating his birthday in lavish style seemingly oblivious to the issue.
When children are caught in the middle of a situation the world will take notice. Many other countries have faced similar refugee migrations and taken similar actions to protect their sovereignty.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is understandably caught in a difficult situation, since there are also T&T citizens suffering under the economic ravages of COVID-19 and Government must treat with their needs as well.
Yet there is no telling when the situation in Venezuela will return to some semblance of normalcy and T&T will continue to be a haven to those seeking refuge. The best move for the Prime Minister now, therefore, is to devise a clear migrant policy by which it stands or be faced with more incidents like the one currently unravelling.