Since this country became a necessary home to thousands of migrants from Venezuela, the derogatory term “Venes” has become attached to fears of loss of low-income jobs and, now, the spread of covid19.
Contact tracing of the local spread cases that have surged in recent weeks is still under way, so it’s unfair and irrational to make possible transmission of the virus another reason to snub Venezuela migrants.
There are more than enough disturbingly visible signs of personal carelessness among those born and living here in using the ways we know will slow transmission – wearing masks, practising physical distancing and hand sanitising – for anyone to be casting stones at migrants.
The government must move urgently to ensure that proper contact tracing of these new local-spread cases identifies sources of infection and slows the rate of transmission.
At a press conference on Friday afternoon, the Prime Minister fretted about not knowing where the new infections are coming from.
He is not alone in that worry.
The public needs to have its concerns about sources of infection addressed.
But the medical community needs to work from verified scientific information.
Given the heat surrounding the issue, DCP Jayson Forde’s earnest promise to challenge Venezuelans for their registration documents seems unnecessary fuel for that fire.
“If you are found to be wanting, we are going to charge you and you will be sentenced after facing court,” Mr Forde said on Tuesday.
That same day, 167 illegal refugees were put on a ship at Chaguaramas bound for Tucupita. Among the repatriated group were 28 children, some of them relatives of Venezuelan citizens who are in TT legally.
Challenging anyone who appears to be Venezuelan inspires unwelcome comparisons to a police state and only encourages the general public to respond poorly to the presence of Venezuelan refugees.
The presence of covid19 makes managing the refugee problem more difficult. But one reason –based on enlightened self-interest – to treat them with more, not even less empathy, is that if undocumented refugees entering through TT’s porous borders are in fact bringing cases of the virus with them, they should be encouraged to seek treatment and hence reduce the risk of spread, rather than feel they must stay below the radar.
The government also has challenges in responding to a refugee crisis that is now being exploited for profit. Newsday reported on an illegal “travel service” for Venezuelans hoping to reach Trinidad, and the recent arrest of 33 undocumented refugees uncovered a system of homes and transport organised by locals to move illegal migrants across TT.
Opportunistic systems to exploit the desperate can only exist when official channels have failed public need.
Inadequate and haphazard attempts to address the humanitarian crisis of the refugee challenge reflect poorly on governance priorities, even in the midst of a pandemic.