Setting aside xenophobia to benefit TT

A group of Venezuelan immigrants on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain. Photo by Sureash Cholai - SUREASH CHOLAI
A group of Venezuelan immigrants on the Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain. Photo by Sureash Cholai - SUREASH CHOLAI


WHY WOULD a person willingly give up their family, job and community to embark on an illegal, dangerous journey to another country? In the case of the Venezuelans, it’s because they are generally running away from unbearable, life-threatening circumstances.

Our leaders are publicly pretending not to know that conditions in Venezuelan continue to deteriorate, yet our borders are barely protected. People in both countries are benefitting financially by taking advantage of the minimal border monitoring and lack of safety regulations to facilitate the Venezuelan sea-crossing into our country. This has resulted in loss of life by drowning as well importation of covid19 infections.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide and the majority of them are in Latin America and the Caribbean. If we do not take a systems approach to this influx, the cultural face of TT will change rapidly in the foreseeable future.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has created the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) to track and monitor displaced populations. From a survey conducted, 74 per cent of the respondents confirmed that their mode of transport to Trinidad was via boat. Last time I checked there is no formal ocean travel between TT and Venezuela. I don't think we have any fast ferries going to Venezuela. If 74 per cent of them are coming via the ocean, who are the facilitators of this travel? Why are we not intercepting more of them on the ocean and landing areas? Is this another instance of us pretending not to know?

Given the size of the Venezuelan population when compared with ours it is a valid consideration that this unchecked migration can overload our systems and cause further chaos, but appropriately thought-out applied systems, processes and procedures will help us manage the inflow.

Our reality is that historically Venezuelans have migrated to TT both formally and informally. There are stories about men with families in both places, or as informally described, “both sides of the water.” We should not view this as a zero-sum game where one side wins and the other side loses. We ought to be looking at how we can incorporate skilled Venezuelans into our population.

The pre-covid19 registration process was a good start. It needs to be continued and systematised. Legal job options for registered migrants can help us fill the gaps which exist in our aging population. Once their status is normalised they will pay taxes, national insurance, health surcharge etc and contribute to our country as every other citizen. This is typically how legal immigrants, including TT citizens, are integrated into society in other parts of the world.

Globally, migrants generally do very well and add value to their host country. The factors that pushed them away from their home country motivate them to work harder in the host country, and fear of losing their immigrant status and thus deportation tends to keep them obeying the law. The host country invariably benefits from the presence of migrants so this is a ready solution to some of our employment problems, especially since the data says that 50 per cent of the migrants have had at least post-secondary education including tech-voc certification.

If past performance is any indication of future performance, then we know that promises to purchase more boats will not solve the problem. This problem requires a collaborative approach which focuses on the humanitarian side and presents a structured long-term solution. Pretending not to know the extent to which the Venezuelans are here is kicking the can down the road, while endangering both TT citizens and Venezuelan immigrants.


"Setting aside xenophobia to benefit TT"

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