AS an element in her considerations in assessing the presumed effectiveness of the 2021 national budget, The UWI economist Dr Marlene Attzs called attention to the growing presence of migrants in our midst.
She said the Government ought to take better and greater account of this and plan effectively to bring those persons into the mix as sources of labour. She pointed to the benefits to the local economy which continue not to be reckoned with, from a development which firmly defies the best efforts at control by the authorities.
For centuries, Trinidad and Tobago has been a migrant-receiving destination, with Venezuela being a major contributory source. At various times during our histories, T&T has been a place of refuge for generations of Venezuelan nationals, whether as a result of economic or political hardships in that country mere miles away from our shores.
The acclaimed father of the Venezuelan and Ibero-American independence, Simon Bolivar, spent time here. One of the intellectuals in his closest circles, Francisco De Miranda, spent a year here between 1806 and 1807, as part of what has been described as the rendezvous for his expeditions in the struggle for Spanish American independence in general. Romulo Betancourt, who was twice president of an Independent Venezuela (1945-1948/1959-1964), had spent time in Trinidad growing up.
In June 2019, faced with the growing numbers of Venezuelan nationals fleeing political and economic instability in their country, the Government in Port of Spain set about a regularisation programme, offering temporary residency status to Venezuelan nationals already here. The authorities said they registered some 17,000. Other sources, including international agencies tracking the movement of migrants in this and other regions of the world, put the number of Venezuelans on the ground in this country closer to 40,000.
Since then, however, despite the best efforts of this country’s border control agencies, the flow of persons fleeing current conditions “across the main” has been continuing nearly unabated. As one example of the near impossibility of containment in this regard, the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard has declared that information on the routine interception of vessels transporting Venezuelan nationals to our shores is classified.
In an assessment of its approach to addressing this stubborn reality, Amnesty International’s Louise Tillotson has accused the Government of refusing to honour its obligations under the UN Convention on the rights of migrants and refugees.
Dr Attzs’ call to attention on this matter ought to be taken seriously and conscientiously by the policy makers and the drafters of both economic and administrative measures to address the realities presented by it. This is not in the least to deny that the Government will place highest priority to addressing the clear and present difficulties facing its own citizens.
But in light of the growing body of evidence that the migrant and refugee issue is led by the continued march of persons from Venezuela, the budget is exposed as having been short-sighted in its need to make provision for addressing the related implications.