WE WELCOME the Government’s policy position on making the Venezuelan amnesty an international one through inclusion of nationals from the African continent detained at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC).
There are good historical and humanitarian reasons for such a move, especially in light of pressures on local infrastructure and the poor conditions at the IDC. However, the Government must avoid the perception of a piecemeal approach to international policy. And it must clarify whether any of the current measures will have a direct bearing on the path to citizenship.
Critics of the move will point out the current amnesty measure has already suffered glitches which do not suggest the solution is adding more numbers. Poor infrastructure, confusion with websites and forms, arbitrary opening hours, lengthy processing times – these are just some of the issues Venezuelans opting to come forward have had to contend with. Yet, any new measure will have teething problems and the experience already gained in the ongoing process will likely inform future operations.
There are good economic reasons to include detainees from countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. The IDC, which can hold about 200, is more or less full to the brim. As a result, an additional 2,000 people are out on “orders of supervision,” Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews told the JSC in February. Some do not report for monitoring, she added.
The spectre of a Jamaican national walking out of the Piarco International Airport and in the process escaping detention at the IDC may evoke humour from some. In truth, it reflects a serious security lapse underpinned by the overburdening of our immigration systems.
The cost of deporting inmates at the IDC is high. The Immigration Division, a department of the National Security Ministry, spent $9 million on repatriation from 2012 to 2016, including $2.5 million to charter an aircraft to Nigeria in 2015. Offering an amnesty could be a way of avoiding these costs while also adding to the local labour market.
But more fundamentally there are humanitarian reasons. Many detainees at the IDC have been left in limbo at the IDC because of the prohibitive cost of deportation. One Nigerian national spent almost five years there, according to a report submitted to a parliamentary committee in February.
The Government must spell out its umbrella plan when it comes to its immigration measures and how they will now affect the system by which people become citizens. The piecemeal announcement of policy inflects the process with an arbitrary air, detrimental to both migrants and the local business community.
There is merit in being flexible and responsive to changing conditions and opportunities, as long as it is guided by a clearly articulated humanitarian outlook or vision.