THIS country will not allow the United Nations (UN) or any other international body to convert it into a refugee camp, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said yesterday. He will also write a letter of complaint to the UN, about its local representatives, whom he said have misrepresented the facts pertaining to the deportation of 82 Venezuelan nationals last Saturday.
The UN High Commission on Refugees alleged in media releases on Sunday and Tuesday, that among the group deported were asylum seekers who had registered and received their certificates from the UN and so should not have been allowed to leave without having their circumstances verified by the agency.
A stern Rowley lashed back yesterday in a fiery statement during the post-Cabinet media briefing, saying this country “will not allow without protest any international agency to misrepresent our circumstance to the world and stay in TT.”
“I as Prime Minister will, under my hand, write a complaint to the UN at its headquarters about the conduct of persons who take it upon themselves to speak about TT. We are a member of the UN and a very careful and responsible one and if officers of the UN are going to talk about TT, especially those who are in TT and know our circumstance then the least we can expect of them is to stay with the facts,” Rowley said.
Asked if he was disputing the UN’s claims, Rowley said he was not, but that there were “a whole plethora of issues.” The issue, he said, was not asylum seekers, but rather that TT is “behaving in a manner unbecoming of TT and that is not fact.”
TT IS GENEROUS
The facts, according to Rowley, were that there were people in neighbouring state who were facing difficulties. We are a generous and caring people, he said, and as the situation in Venezuela deteriorated more and more people have been coming, and this country is assisting as it is able to.
“Bearing in mind we are not China, Russia or America, we are a little island. We have limited space. 1.3 million people. Therefore we cannot and will not allow UN spokespersons to convert us into a refugee camp,” he said.
The country does acknowledge that there is a crisis in Venezuela, he said, which is why TT is being careful how it handles it “because if we mishandle it, it can create serious problems for us.”
“There are people who want us to join them in invading Venezuela. We are not doing that. There are people who want us to come out and speak and say the Venezuelan government is this or that. They can stay where they are. We are not doing that. Venezuela is our closest neighbour we work on neighbourly relationships and the assistance we provide is the assistance we can afford,” Rowley said. Asked to clarify just who was asking TT to invade Venezuela, he said, “Grenada, probably, I don’t know.”
He criticised more developed nations for their hypocrisy on similar issues, where, when in order to deal with a migrant influx, they slapped on visa restrictions. He also noted that in these countries deportations are common, for example, “Haitians sent back every Monday morning from developed countries with more resources than we have.”
“But we, who have done so much to be friendly and caring to our Venezuelan neighbours, have to listen to UN public servants that we should get their say-so to determine what we do in TT,” Rowley admonished.
MANY COMING ILLEGALLY
He also clarified that many of the people entering the country were economic migrants, many of them illegal. “Economic migrants do not automatically or easily qualify for refugee status or else all of us here in TT who want to go to America would get on a plane and go there. Every unemployed person in TT if they could afford it would go to Florida,” he said. Rowley also pointed out that those who entered a country illegally—even this country— were at a greater risk for being exploited, either through prostitution or as cheap labourers, leaving their country to come to an even worse situation.
The Venezuelans who had been detained, he said, weren’t done so because they were Venezuelan, but rather because they broke the law, he said. “And it irks me when people appoint themselves spokespersons for our country and have nothing good to say about this place and seek to put us in the worst possible light where our interest is not defended. I will defend the interest of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Rowley was hesitant to accept suggestions than an amnesty granted to those illegal immigrants already here because it might lead to an even greater influx. Only a few weeks ago, the Immigration Division in a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, noted that while the numbers of Venezuelans coming into the country through legal ports of entry had dropped by about half from 2014/2015 compared to 2017, the number applying for asylum had in fact increased from five in 2016 to 2,000 daily and rising.
“We grant an amnesty to people and then every bay in TT is open for entry. What’s your story then? Especially at this time when we are struggling to find opportunities for our own people,” he said. And to the bandwagonists claiming the country wasn’t being supportive enough, he reminded them of the reaction to his invitation to Dominicans ravaged by Hurricane Maria last year. “But I maintain we are a caring people and we have never shirked our responsibility to those who are in need to the extent of our ability to support them. We are not going to have people tell us that we are, what we are not and then we take it out of fear. We can defend our position,” he said.