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Saturday 18 August 2018
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Commentary

Myopic indignation

ELIZABETH SOLOMON

THE INDIGNATION over the treatment meted out to the “Windrush generation” took legs during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London last week.

The Windrush generation, named after the ship that carried Caribbean migrants to the mother country when the United Kingdom most needed labour support, have suffered increasingly from a loss of civic status and erosion of their human rights through successive changes in legislation that impacted negatively on access to basic needs like healthcare, pension, housing and ultimately the right to citizenship resulting in deportation.

Prime Minister Rowley aptly described the situation as “callous and offensive,” and he was clear and unwavering about our expectations as Caribbean people that UK leadership needed to ensure that the Windrush generation be treated with dignity and in a manner befitting the worth that they had brought to the development of the United Kingdom.

He was effective and, as the website of the Office of the Prime Minister reports, “In the prevailing circumstances, Prime Minister May apologised for the challenges and inconvenience faced by those affected and reiterated appreciation for the value of the contribution made by the ‘Windrush generation’ … She assured that the Government of the UK would put measures in place to give eligible persons certainty regarding their right to live in the UK.”

Caribbean leaders secured a commitment “to a quick and effective resolution to a situation which created stress and confusion for many persons from the Caribbean” and urged Prime Minister May “to institute a robust process that would guarantee the welfare of the affected persons.” A battle well fought and a satisfactory conclusion.

Yet, it begs the question: Is there some justification for allowing oneself the virtue of indignation about one set of mistreated people, while voicing no concern about the indignity of treatment of others or, for that matter, becoming culpable in the mistreatment of others?

As Caribbean leaders should we not hold a special place in our hearts and minds, and visions for our societies, for all peoples who experience the indignity and dehumanisation of discrimination? That is what we are: A group of States comprised of peoples who came to this region from all kinds of far-flung places as the result of discrimination and mistreatment, some fleeing persecution or lack of opportunity and others dragged here involuntarily.

For Trinidad and Tobago, a significant part of that history involves people from Venezuela. How many of our citizens – many of them highly productive members of society – have roots in Venezuela? Angostura, our national pride, was brought to these shores by Venezuelan nationals who adopted this country and became productive members of society.

It is this fact that adds insult to injury in the treatment of Venezuelans who find themselves in this country, and in particular the shocking deportation of 82 Venezuelan nationals. Venezuelan nationals face all manner of human rights abuses in this country, from sexual assault to exploitation by unethical employers with very limited State protection.

However, the deportation exercise carried out by the State acting in collaboration with the Venezuelan government has taken this country down a dark and dangerous road. This was mistreatment by the State on so many levels. There are clearly prescribed procedures in place in international law and in domestic law for the processing of refugees and for the deportation of unwanted individuals. It would appear that none of these were followed.

Whether by dint of intent or mismanagement, the hurt and abuse of human rights caused these people by the failure of the State to follow due process is unacceptable and in breach of our country’s commitment to its international human rights obligations.

Amnesty International’s statement condemning the actions taken by Trinidad and Tobago sums up the situation aptly: “Venezuelans are fleeing an unprecedented human rights crisis in their country. They need a life jacket, not to be sent back to a country to face torture or other grave human rights violations.”

Therefore, in the prevailing circumstances, there is need for a quick and effective resolution to a situation that is causing stress and confusion to asylum-seekers who flee to this country looking for refuge. We urge Prime Minister Rowley “to institute a robust process that would guarantee the welfare of the affected persons” by way of full implementation of the refugee policy.

But there is more. We, the people of this historically complex country, need, urgently, to challenge our xenophobia and our unexamined fears about refugees. We need to define our interactions with others by the measure of human dignity. It is easy. Ask yourself: How would you like to be treated if you found yourself in the same situation?

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