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A police officer directs Venezuelan migrants to a bus after their arrival at Los Iros beach in Erin on Tuesday. The migrants are currently in detention awaiting the outcome of a legal battle to get their freedom to seek asylum here.

GAIL ALEXANDER

Hold the line, Trinidad and Tobago.

This little country which facilitated the registration of 16,543 Venezuelans, even as citizens are struggling to cope, is now being assaulted by elements using nameless people with innocent children, to force T&T to accept their understanding of “refugee status and international treaty.”

Voicing that view yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley held the line against illegal migration as controversy continued on the recent deportation and return of a group of Venezuelans who first entered T&T illegally on November 17.

Rowley also immediately replied to United Nations Human Rights (UNHR) statements on the incident.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne has warned that human trafficking from Venezuela will strain T&T’s ability to assist Venezuelans who are here legally.

But Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal and UNC leadership challenger Vasant Bharath have condemned Government on the deportation.

The Venezuelan group that entered T&T illegally was sent back to Venezuela under Coast Guard escort. The court later struck down a claim by attorney Nafeesa Mohammed, who tried to prevent the deportations. But the group returned on Tuesday and another legal battle has begun.

In another matter, however, the court ruled that certain Venezuelan children who were detained at the Chaguaramas Heliport by the Coast Guard be freed into the custody or relatives here. Others who didn’t have relatives here remain in detention at the facility.

The entire issue has earned Government criticism, including from Venezuelan Opposition leader Juan Guaido and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which called on Government to safeguard the human rights of refugee and migrant children.

On the overall matter, however, Rowley, via a statement yesterday, said, “Why should we be surprised? The Organisation of American States (OAS) under its misguided President Almagro has been almost singlehandedly responsible for triggering and fuelling the current Venezuelan situation and these public officials have virtually declared war on T&T for having the temerity to have not joined Elliot Abrams and President Trump in forcing violent regime change in Venezuela.

“Trinidad and Tobago is currently under the latest assault, using nameless, faceless people armed with innocent children, to try and force us to accept their understanding of ‘refugee status and international treaty’, where a little island nation of 1.3 million people must be expected to maintain open borders to a next-door neighbour of 34 million people even during a pandemic. This is a matter, not for the OAS, but for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Rowley pointed out, “Currently, we have closed our borders even to our own citizens in this pandemic and would resist all efforts by others who are hell-bent on forcing open our borders through illegal immigration.

“Under the rubric of ‘humanitarian’, this interpretation, if accepted, will effectively prise open our borders to every economic migrant, gun runner, drug dealer, human trafficker and South American gang leader/members. All they will be required to do is make the seven-mile boat trip and claim to be ‘refugees’.”

“We staunchly support the work of the United Nations but this threat and the persistent disregard for the outstanding humanitarian efforts extended by the people of TT, do not conform with the spirit and purpose of the UNHCR.”

He added, “It is our little island nation which facilitated the registration of 16,000 Venezuelan migrants and even as we ourselves are struggling to cope with our own difficulties, we have afforded them comfort, aid and opportunity. If after all that, our nation’s image is to be tarnished through the facilitation of illegal penetration of our borders then certainly, that will be the unkindest cut of all.

“I call on all the people of Trinidad and Tobago to continue to be the humane and caring people that we have demonstrated that we are, as we do not demonise our migrant neighbours – but we all continue to be protected by the laws of T&T.”

Browne responds to Guaido

Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Browne was contacted by Guardian Media on Venezuela Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s criticisms of T&T over the migrant deportations.

Guaido’s Opposition will be fighting Venezuela’s December 6 elections against President Nicolas Maduro, whom some local Opposition and Venezuelan forces feel Government is sympathetic to.

Commenting on the issue, Browne said, “In the current COVID-19 pandemic circumstances, all stakeholders must be cognizant that rampant human trafficking from Venezuela and the associated exploitation of women and children can lead to humanitarian crisis on both sides of the border.

“Such a trend places in jeopardy not only the health and welfare of our T&T citizens but also the health and welfare of the many thousands of Venezuelans that have officially and compassionately been permitted to live and work in T&T and to access a wide range of services in our small island nation.”