N Touch
Saturday 7 December 2019
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Out of the frying pan

THE CIRCUMSTANCES are disturbing. In broad daylight, and in a hub for recreation too. But the murder victim was a Venezuelan asylum-seeker who was literally on the doorstep of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. That’s an ignominious low. All efforts must be made to bring the perpetrators to justice. We should be outraged when a single murder occurs. But this incident not only reflects badly on domestic conditions, it also does considerable damage to our international reputation.

We express condolences to the family of the victim. It is a particularly cruel twist of fate for a person to leave their home country, fleeing undesirable conditions, to end up in another place where they become a homicide statistic. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, some might say.

Defenders of TT’s reputation, though, will staunchly say such a reading of the situation is unwarranted. Murders are happening, yes, but they still do not represent the general experience of the citizenry. Indeed, it is signally unfair to generalise an entire country based on a relatively small number of incidents. While the murder rate remains unacceptably high, and while crime now touches every part of the country, it still does not define the experience of most. Still, the fear is real. And it will now also ripple among those who have come here seeking a better life, if it does not already.

It is ironic that only a few weeks ago Minister of National Security Stuart Young warned that foreigners who misbehave will be sent home. Such rhetoric was as obvious as it was unnecessary. All over the world, immigrants are required to comply with local laws. Young would be well advised not to fuel xenophobia by making statements which could be misconstrued.

There is much animus against Venezuelans today. But do we not remember the long history we have with that country; how many Trinidadians have settled there and vice versa? For instance, the German Siegert family, the originators of our world-famous Angostura Bitters, immigrated to this country from Venezuela in 1876. Today, there is a square in Woodbrook, near the scene of Thursday’s murder, named after the Siegert family.

While it is hard to see a silver lining in the latest tragedy, perhaps it might be a reminder to all of the need to temper passion with compassion. And to heed the words of poet Emma Lazarus whose oft-quoted poem on New York’s Statute of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor,/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

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