Thankfully, I haven’t personally met any Trinidadian who objects to the prospect of this country taking in climate-change refugees from Dominica. I have to admit though to a deep sense of revulsion towards the xenophobic amongst us.
As I read their comments I thought to myself, that’s the kind of irrational insular arrogance that has festered here since we led the way to the dissolution of the West Indies Federation in 1962. Fuming, I say to myself, here we are celebrating Republic Day with our backs to our neighbours, unwilling or, worse, unable to see and feel their troubles as our own.
Why, I wonder, can the naysayers not see that we are siblings of the peoples of the Caribbean, born of the same historical upheaval, sharing this tiny precious, vulnerable part of the planet and destined to grow together into mature nations.
Then, turning back to the task at hand, I think that actually this xenophobia is not at all widespread. I am reminded of the immediate and earnest mobilisation of State level, private sector, civil society and individual support in all possible forms that has been channelled through me, let alone all the other efforts being channelled through others connected in some way to Dominica, or the BVI or St Martin or Antigua and Barbuda.
There has been no hesitation in doing what needs to be done. So much so that the efforts by regional authorities to organise the chaos of caring has itself been enormous. I have had to start a database just to keep track of all the offers of open homes, money, relief supplies, equipment and vessels to ease the suffering in Dominica. Clearly the majority view is that we are in the mess together.
We will bumble along together and find our way through the climate vulnerabilities and the naked politicking around everything including emergency aide, and the breakdown in law and order, and the trauma of loss, and the broken economies, and whatever else will come next. These challenges are ours to overcome.
The situation in Dominica is catastrophic, like nothing we in Trinidad have ever experienced. The level of human suffering and displacement is, as Prime Minister Skerrit said, “mind-boggling.”
Dominicans are experiencing food insecurity like they have never imagined. The winds ripped the leaves off of trees even as they were flung crazily in every direction, it tore crops out of the ground and mud has smothered what was left. Livestock lie dead and rotting right where they were tethered. Water, as plentiful as it is in the nature isle, must now be purified and very few people have access to electricity.
In my small realm, aided immensely by the connectivity of social media, a cell phone and a strategic satellite phone at ground zero, we were able to put people in touch with each other to share critical information, to direct basic supplies and to send emotionally fraught messages of love and concern between Dominicans on the ground and around the world. Privy to these intense exchanges, I have concluded that we are connected viscerally as Caribbean people. So, in response to the xenophobes, I had wanted to say to my compatriots let us all “take a knee” against the racism and insularity that motivates the “close your doors” nonsense that emerged when our Caribbean family most needed us. On reflection though, I need only point out that if you close your doors, you lose. The rest of us are moving forward together.