For the last two months, the country’s focus has been on the worrisome rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as the ensuing restrictions and State of Emergency meant to curb the spread of the virus.
But yesterday, the discovery of 14 dead people, all suspected to be migrants, inside a boat adrift in the waters off Tobago, serve as a grim reminder that while the nation remains in the throes of the COVID crisis, its other problem — porous borders — remains an ongoing issue which is of great cause for concern.
Since 2016, Venezuelans fleeing the political and economic turmoil in their homeland have set their sights on Trinidad and Tobago as a safe haven to take refuge until they can return home. Some have entered legally, and others risk their lives to enter under stealth into this country.
Decades before, the ease with which other migrants from several countries including Caricom found themselves in this country had been the topic of much debate and discourse.
The legalities aside, these incidents past and present have all highlighted how vulnerable this country’s ports of entry, legal and illegal, and borders are and how easily migrants and those intent on nefarious activities can access this country.
Soon after assuming office as Minister of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds assured that national security forces will be implementing strong measures to stem the flow of migrants. He also revealed that the Government has approved the purchase of two Cape-Class patrol boats to increase border security and safeguard the country’s maritime domain.
While the minister’s assurances appear promising, incidents like yesterday and the continued detention of illegal migrants by police, show that there is much more that needs to be done in this area of concern.
Residents in Tobago complained earlier this week about the poor response of the T&T Coast Guard to a distress call from fishermen after a group from Trinidad was drifting close to a shallow area off Speyside. The fishermen themselves eventually conducted the rescue mission.
This, coupled with the vessel found floating off Belle Garden with the ghastly find, begs the question about how efficiently the borders and coasts are monitored and the response of those so tasked with this responsibility.
The T&T Police Service is already doing its part with the establishment of a Marine Unit.
But this solitary move may clearly not be enough to protect the borders and ports.
What is needed is an amplified effort by all to effectively secure and fortify the country, not only against illegal migration — especially given the spread of COVID-19 and the emergence of numerous variants — but to ensure the citizenry can feel safe knowing it is protected both within and from elements on the outside.