IN a move announced last Friday, hesitant and tentative as it may have been, the Prime Minister’s statement on providing special identification cards for Venezuelan nationals in Trinidad and Tobago is a welcome step forward.
It should however happen like yesterday, with the increasing challenges involved in the issue of managing the swelling inflow of such nationals to our shores.
Dr Rowley made this disclosure as he addressed the hour-by-hour changing situation with our neighbours next door. He said it came out of a meeting with the Archbishop of Port of Spain. This itself could have been the work of the Catholic agency the Living Water Community, long recognised for its work in a Refugee Ministry in the local jurisdiction. It had been endorsed by the United Nations, long before the world body established its own specialised footprint locally, with the opening of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees here.
The Prime Minister said the issuance of such special ID cards would, among other things, protect its holders “from exploitation within our borders”. He said the cards, along with legislation which the Government intended to bring to Parliament would be intended to treat with “the humanitarian side” of the refugee issue. He described it as a problem.
Given the escalating political situation in Venezuela and the social and economic slide which has resulted, the numbers of persons seeking to leave their homeland have been ballooning. It has taken this long for the authorities to wake up to these realities, this country having signed on to a UN convention on the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers since the year 2000.
As captured in the stories told in a report compiled on our shores by the global organisation Refugees International (RI), part of the necessary sensitisation of authority figures in dealing with the human side of this matter is graphically exemplified. Complaints of xenophobia and acts of assault by prisons personnel have been highlighted. The report reveals details of complaints by asylum-seekers about having to pay a “security bond” as a condition of release from prison.” There have been questions about whether, in fact, some of those persons should have been detained in prison in the first place, as distinct from the Immigration Detention Centre.
And in many instances, in other complaints which form part of this ugly narrative, these persons protest that their assignment to the detention centre takes place even where they can verify their status as refugee claimants and asylum-seekers.
In these circumstances, the Government should move to take swift action on the RI report which was to be officially released yesterday. It calls for the establishment, in the short term, of “temporary registration” for those persons who qualify. And it advocates for the children of these applicants to attend school “regardless of their legal status”. These are but a woeful short-list of the matters which should be addressed under the rubric of “humanitarian concerns”.
Such action on the part of the Government cannot come too soon at this stage.