THE EDITOR: In the midst of the Government’s humanitarian efforts to assist thousands of desperate Venezuelans by allowing them to work in this country for one year, I advise the Government to proceed with caution.
For this policy to have any chance of being successful, effective systems and structures must be put in place and the rules of engagement must be enforced.
There are several economic and social issues associated with the influx of Venezuelans which this country is not prepared to deal with.
Many of the more serious repercussions will not be experienced in the short-term but rather in the long-term and the impact could be very far-reaching.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said recently that we cannot open the gate wide as it would be difficult to close. However, I believe the gate is already wide open and if a clear exit strategy is not put in place now, the long-term consequences would be very serious indeed.
There are many important questions that have arisen with respect to this policy, which the Government is yet to effectively address. How will our institutions, many already stretched to breaking point, cope with this influx of migrants?
Our hospitals are already plagued with serious overcrowding, with bed shortages and many of our own citizens having to wait hours to receive medical attention.
Our education system currently faces may serious challenges, added to which our teachers are ill-equipped to deal with Spanish-speaking children coming from a different education system.
In addition, several serious social issues will arise which will have ripple effects throughout the society. In a sexually charged society like ours, the threat of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and potential negative impacts on family life are very real indeed.
Already some Venezuelans are involved in criminal activities and this will worsen. How will our already burdened national security agencies and messed-up judicial system cope with increased criminal activities?
I believe, however, that the major challenge the country faces with the government migrant policy is the lack of a clear exit strategy at the end of the one-year period.
What happens when the permit expires? Many of these Venezuelans will believe that once they are in possession of them that they become de facto residents with no intention of returning to their country.
One way of dealing with the situation is for the authorities to stipulate that at the expiration of the permits the migrants must return to Venezuela for one year, during which our national security agencies would review the situation.
Based on the review, the authorities may deem it necessary to renew the permits for another period of time or that the situation in Venezuela has stabilised sufficiently enough and there is no need to renew the permits.
People who fail to return voluntarily to Venezuela following the expiration of their permits must be deported and denied re-entry to work for another year. Putting a system like this in place would ensure there is an effective exit strategy.
The situation with the Venezuelan migrants is similar to someone living in a community who has neighbours displaced by a negative situation and allows a family to stay at his home. No matter how compassionate and caring someone is to such a family, a stay cannot continue for an indefinite period and must have an expiry date. The natural dynamics of human relationships will ultimately come into play.
LESLIE GILKES via e-mail