DAVID Smolansky, commissioner of the General Secretary of the Organisation of American States (OAS) for the crisis of the Venezuelan migrants and refugees, said that he has been waiting more than a year for a response from TT to visit the country on an observation mission.
Speaking with Newsday through a virtual interview, Smolansky said that in 2019, his office asked the TT Diplomatic Mission to the OAS for formal authorisation to create an agenda on the island.
“We met with the TT ambassador to the OAS last year, within the framework of the registry of work, and to this day we have not received any responses. It is the only mission that they do not respond to, we interpret that they are not interested in us making this visit,” said the commissioner.
Smolansky said before visiting any country, they notify the embassy of that country to create an agenda so that they can collect information from Venezuelan migrants.
“We have meetings with Venezuelan migrants, with authorities and representatives of the UNHCR, among others, in which we take information on the legal situation of refugees, as well as the collaboration and efforts of governments. Last year, we were in Curaçao and Aruba, as well as in Costa Rica and all the countries of South America,” the official stressed.
“We are very surprised that Trinidad and Tobago has not responded to us. I conclude that it is due to a political position, the TT government is a great ally of Nicolás Maduro. We are concerned,” he acknowledged.
Smolansky stressed that one of the commission's jobs is to gather information on the care received by migrants and refugees, issues of documentation, access to education, work, legal advice and psychological support.
He said they do not provide humanitarian aid since there were various non-governmental-organisations that do so.
Expand the registry
According to Smolanksy, one of the essential issues for the OAS was the legal recognition of the more than 40,000 Venezuelans in TT.
"They are human beings who came to other countries fleeing famine, persecution, the collapse of the economy and basic services, the product of the absence of a criminal and dictatorial state."
He reminded the government of TT that for decades there were hundreds of Trinidadians who traveled to Venezuela to seek opportunities and all were well received and moved forward, they got legality, education and employment.
“We ask that Trinidad and Tobago expand the registry. There are thousands of refugees who did not have the opportunity to participate in the first process due to lack of time or misinformation. The political will has to come from the government to legalise Venezuelans so that they can get access to education, to the labor market and to be able to live in peace at least until there is a change of government in Venezuela,” said the OAS official.
Xenophobia and persecution
Smolansky also said said the OAS was closely evaluating recent statements by Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, on Venezuelans who have arrived illegally on the island.
Young said in a radio program that refugees before UNHCR do not fall under the TT laws, while Gandhi-Andrews pointed out in a virtual conference that illegal immigrants from Venezuela could be linked to new cases of covid19.
“We closely follow the actions of the TT government on refugees. We condemn the persecution and these types of statements because it is discriminatory, it can become an excuse for the practice of xenophobia and exposes the lives of Venezuelans in their country,” Smolansky said.
He also rejected the recent kidnapping and assault of an 18-year-old Venezuelan girl in Siparia, when she was going out to sell empandas.
Smolanksky asked that the authorities take decisive action to prevent any other person from being attacked.
“Venezuelans do not go to TT because they want to, but are fleeing from a crisis in their country and at some point they will return (to Venezuela). Once the dictatorship ends in Venezuela, and the country recovers, many of the immigrants in TT will return. It is also important that governments take action on human trafficking, fighting the mafias and take the side of people who suffer and justice, ” Smolanksy said.