TODAY’S observance of World Refugee Day comes as borders are being re-drawn all over the globe. But societies are struggling to come to terms with the competing values of nationalism and humanism. In this fraught, inter-connected global environment, this country must distinguish itself by adopting a policy that places emphasis on regional solidarity and cooperation, not isolationist unilateral action.
The status of refugees and of immigrants as a whole continues to trouble all nations. After distressing reports of children being kept in cages at US border facilities emerged, Donald Trump on Monday declared the US will not be a “migrant camp”. At about the same time, members of the UK Parliament continued to wage war over the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union. And, closer to home, Venezuelan asylum seekers in this country threatened to invoke the protection of the court to preserve their legal status.
Politicians may well be averse to tackling these kinds of issues head-on given the strong emotions that tend to accompany them. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel arguably paid the price for her famous decision, made in 2015, to open Germany’s borders to Syrian refugees. Though she held on to power in a subsequent election, her party’s position was seriously weakened. This week, she will seek to cling to power as her fragile coalition has split over immigration.
But whether they want to or not, politicians must understand this is an issue that cannot be avoided. Decades of globalization, driven by advances in transport and technology, have wrought a brave new world where borders are increasingly crossed, one way or another. Our leaders may think these matters are best left to public servants or to bi-lateral arrangements on a case-by-case basis. But such an approach is inadequate, as the repatriation of some 82 Venezuelans from this country in April demonstrated.
The Venezuelan repatriations are not simply a matter between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago. The position adopted by this country has global implications relating to the treatment of refugee-seekers, whatever country they are in. That much has been made clear by the various global agencies who have commented adversely on the developments, as well as by the initiation of potentially precedent-setting legal action by Carlos Jose Perez Aria and Maria Carolina Olivares Sahad.
In this regard, we welcome events such as today’s panel discussion hosted by the Faculty of Law of the University of the West Indies on refugee law. Among the panelists will be Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine and representatives from the Human Rights Clinic. It is hoped such discussions can shape a more coherent framework. We need a policy that goes well beyond our relations with Venezuela. Such a policy must include Caricom, Latin America, and the Caribbean’s Spanish-speaking states—without whom our efforts to seal our borders will be useless.