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Sunday 18 August 2019
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TT ‘under fire’ at UN

Youth leaders debate refugee, migrants policy

A delegate makes her point at the  Rotary Club of Central Port of Spain Model UN (MUN) 2019 Resolution on International Migration and Development debate at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s yesterday. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
A delegate makes her point at the Rotary Club of Central Port of Spain Model UN (MUN) 2019 Resolution on International Migration and Development debate at Cascadia Hotel, St Ann’s yesterday. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

Trinidad and Tobago came under fire at the Rotary Club of Central Port of Spain Model UN (MUN) 2019 Resolution on International Migration and Development yesterday morning.

On the first day of the general assembly, youths representing various countries questioned the TT delegates on why the country had not “little to nothing” to assist refugees and migrants from Venezuela.

The MUN at the Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre, St Ann’s, simulated a real United Nations General Assembly with students representing governments of various UN member states. This 21st annual MUN give over 100 local and regional youths from TT, St Kitts, St Lucia, Guyana, Curacao, as well as four refugee youths from the School of Hope, a voice in exploring solutions to this global challenge.

The secretary general noted that war, civil unrest, persecution, human rights violations, underdevelopment, climate change and natural disasters were leading to large movements of refugees and migrants every year. She said over 60 million fled violence and persecution while 225 million migrants went to other countries to search for better opportunities for survival.

“Almost 90 per cent of the world’s refugees are hosted in developing countries. Eight countries host more than half the world’s refugees and just ten countries provide 75 per cent of the UN’s budget to ease and resolve their plight. With equitable responsibility sharing, there would be no crisis for host countries. We can afford to help, and we know what we need to do to handle large movements of refugees and migrants yet too often, we let fear and ignorance get in the way. Human needs end up overshadowed, and xenophobia speaks louder than reason.”

TT was asked several questions to which there was minimal response. It was accused of discriminating against Venezuelans while accepting Chinese and regional immigrants. To that the delegation said, “There is no discrimination. It is only because of financial restraints we are unable to help. We do not discriminate against anyone because they are in our country.”

Ghana said TT had over 40,000 refugees, most from Venezuela but very little done to support them. “In fact there is no domestic legalisation for refugees and asylum seekers. Instead the government considers asylum seekers and those granted refugee status by the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to be undocumented migrants. So how can you blatantly state that your country is welcoming to migrants when, in fact, little to nothing is being done to assist them?”

Germany questioned how TT could claimed financial restraint while NGOs were rallying to get Venezuelan children educated. While suggesting that TT should not accept more immigrants than it could accommodate, Libya asked what measures TT was taking to control the number of migrants entering the country. TT was also asked about human trafficking and why it was not accepting Venezuelans in public schools.

At one point Brazil came to TT’s defence saying that the country’s boarders were open and accepting to asylum seekers and migrants. “Presently talks are being held to ensure they are able to work in Trinidad legally.”

Stating that resources were limited and noting the recent closure of Petrotrin and the resulting loss of numerous jobs, the TT delegates responded by asking how the country was expected to support others when it could not support its own people. The delegates also acknowledged that Venezuelan refugees received care from NGOs including UNHCR which recently distributed care packages.

“Our laws will take time to process as in any other country. We have to safeguard our citizens first. We try our best to help these refugees within our financial capabilities.”

It was a very lively debate on topics including the Syrian civil war, the situation in Venezuela, the Nigerian refugee crisis, and refugee camps. Some believed it was better to focus on resolving the problems from which the refugees fled rather than hosting them.

Poland was subject to criticism because their refusal to let refugees into their country although its delegates stressed it assisted refugees financially and medically. US President Donald Trump’s stand on immigration was also raised several times – the Mexican boarder wall, the ban on foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the separation of migrant children from their parents, etc – as it went against several declarations and agreements. Delegates highlighted the number of refugees or migrants they welcomed into their countries, defended their stands to refuse to open their boarders, noted the facilities and services provided to refugees, or pointed out that, while they could or would not physically facilitate refugees or immigrants, they assisted financially.

Other country delegates were put on the defence as they were asked how they could claim to help refugees and migrants when they countries were politically, socially, or financially stable. Others were accused of exploiting displaced individuals or not integrating them into society. South Korea was even accused of imprisoning their refugees on Jeju island.

At one point the Philippines delegates asked how China could not support migrants in their country when Chinese immigrants populated countries all over the world. The China delegates said the country already had one of the largest populations in the world so it contributed financially although it could not take in more people.

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