THE Prime Minister paraphrased a quote from US President Donald Trump to say Trinidad and Tobago citizens come first in TT, even amid a humanitarian policy to Venezuelan migrants, as he addressed Thursday’s post-Cabinet briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s. Saying Trump has said the US Government’s first priority is US citizens, Dr Rowley said, “TT has the same position.”
He said TT has accepted 16,000 Venezuela migrants with brotherly love but had been falsely accused of causing the recent tragedy.
At length he denied TT had any hand in the recent drowning of a boatload of Venezuelans, saying Venezuelan (opposition) political activists were involved in protests at TT’s embassy in Caracas which had alleged the contrary. Saying the drowning victims had died in Venezuelan waters, he flatly rejected any claim that TT had violated their right to life.
Rowley defended TT’s stance in recognising the Nicolas Maduro Government, despite being at odds with “a public servant” of the Organisation of American States (OAS.) He said TT will remain a member of the OAS but would not act like sheep. TT would not vote on resolutions there while the OAS included a so-called Venezuelan representative even as that country’s government had withdrawn from the organisation, he said.
Regarding his policy towards Venezuelan migrants, Rowley said TT has being complying with the recommendations of a 2013 report by the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) grouping titled, Invisible Immigrants, including recommitting to the Immigration Act and considering the International Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers.
He said the Government will assume the role of handling asylum seekers now undertaken by the UN Commissioner for Refugees and the Living Waters Community.
The PM said migrants who swayed by both push and pull factors, but also distinguished between asylum-seekers (personally in danger due to their race, religion or politics) and economic migrants simply seeking betterment, saying of the latter, “Losing your job in a (Venezuelan) bakery does not warrant you getting asylum.”
He urged reporters not to mix up the two phrases, so as not to feed other people’s agendas.
Rowley opposed migrants getting rights that TT nationals do not have, such as rent paid by the State.
He asked if the UNC still backed Juan Guaido as Venezuelan President, as he had not stood in the recent election and was no longer a National Assembly member.
Rowley said the UK Supreme Court had just ruled against the Bank of England’s seizure of Venezuelan gold, to declare Maduro is President not Guaido.
Supporting a stance of push-back at sea of illegal migrants, he said without that policy, 34 million Venezuelans would board boats to head to TT.
“With 200,000 to 300,000 migrants, what will be our position?” he asked aloud.
Newsday asked about hostility on social media towards Venezuelan migrants.
“The people of TT, by and large, have been very welcoming and accommodating to a number of Venezuelan migrants who are seeking to make their way in TT.” He said in cases where migrants behave unreasonably, negative comments will follow. “But, by and large, we are a caring country and we are proud of what we have been able to do for Venezuelans who have left home and come to our country. We empathise with them and will assist them so far as we are able to.
“As we go forward we’ll keep treating with them in the most humane and comforting way."
In an immediate response, attorney Nafeesa Mohammed called for a task force to be set up to establish a proper policy that draws on much work already done by the Office of the Attorney General. She urged a policy that balances TT protecting its sovereignty while recognising Venezuelans as TT neighbours.
Newsday was unable to reach Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi for his views.