VENEZUELA’S humanitarian crisis has provoked local debate about what constitutes humane state and social policy toward refugees and migrants. It was inhumane to put human beings, including children, to sea in a pirogue. It’s inhumane to deport those who are in the process of resolving refugee claims. It’s inhumane to separate children from parents.
However, the nitty-gritty of a human rights approach across state agencies, the labour market and our communities is much more complex and propels us, a migrant society, to reckon with the contradictory mix of stereotypes, exploitation and sexual violence as well as compassion and opportunity that Venezuelan and other migrants encounter here.
Venezuelans were already migrating to and from Trinidad when First Peoples still called the island Kairi. Indeed, we are a broken fragment from the Venezuelan mainland. We also have a long and embedded history of Spanish-speaking communities.
It’s clear that contemporary capital and elites move across borders with an ease and invisibility that the most poor and vulnerable are inequitably and visibly denied, whether because of their nationality, race, gender, sexuality or disability, or limited formal schooling. Yet, migrants always contribute to economies and societies, particularly when there are legal options for them to integrate, and should never be maligned simply as burden or criminal threat.
There has been and will always be migration, within and across national borders. It is increasing as a result of growing economic inequality and climate change, both of which are linked to political instability. The question is how we choose to understand and manage it. And, we should keep in mind, we may be in the same position one day.
There is Minister Young’s commitment to upholding immigration law combined with the porous reality of our borders, which makes such commitment operate through highly unsystematic policing, often accompanied by an extra-legal male threat, extortion and violence to those entering under the shadows of state oversight.
There is an informal economy that can absorb both documented and undocumented migrants because they can be paid lower wages and their labour can be more greatly exploited, particularly women working in feminised roles as domestics, carers, low-waged employees in supermarkets and factories, and in service jobs in restaurants and bars.
Unclear policy direction has also meant that Venezuelan migrants, especially women and girls, are vulnerable to violence of various kinds, from partners, employers, landlords, immigration officials, and traffickers, and are at risk of deportation if they report any of these crimes. Children of parents without asylum or citizenship status also become stateless, living in countries in which they have no right to education, livelihoods and health. This will certainly become a challenge. Given the numbers of migrant children out of school, it already is.
I’ve been listening a lot. Hearing both heart and help from so many on the ground, and also fear and condemnation, not only of Venezuelans, but migrants overall. As young migration scholar Tivia Collins wrote in her letter to the editor of August 28, “Despite our personal opinions on the circumstances of Venezuelans’ arrival to Trinidad and Tobago, or on the ways we think they live, we have a right to be kind and show empathy to others in need” In their article documenting interviews with Venezuelan migrant women, Collins and Richie Ann Daly recommend that “the Government of Trinidad and Tobago implement a migration policy that guarantees the rights of migrants in vulnerable situations within the country.” They call for “local legislation on asylum seekers and refugees, which would provide a formal system for Venezuelan migrants to legally live and work in Trinidad and Tobago.” Third, they emphasise training for immigration officers and public education to promote empathy.
R4V (Response for Venezuelans), a co-ordination platform for refugees and migrants from Venezuela, additionally calls on Caribbean states to ensure that “returns to Venezuela are not forced.” In its own words, “It is important to note that returning to one’s home country is a human right, and often the most desirable durable solution for many refugees. However…the current conditions in Venezuela remain problematic and not conducive for a dignified and safe return. At this point, returns should continue to be only for those who truly wish to voluntarily return and are not forced…since this would amount to…a serious human right violation”
Such discrimination and violation are happening here, with tragic impunity. I reflect on this reading the newspapers, reminding myself about justice and kindness, and a nation of migrants yet again struggling to recognise our common humanity.
Diary of a mothering worker