Archbishop: Enough space in schools – TEACH MIGRANT CHILDREN

TEACH DON'T SHUN THEM: Archbishop Jason Gordon is urging government to open the way for registered migrant children to access an education. FILE PHOTO - ANGELO MARCELLE
TEACH DON'T SHUN THEM: Archbishop Jason Gordon is urging government to open the way for registered migrant children to access an education. FILE PHOTO - ANGELO MARCELLE

ROMAN Catholic Archbishop of Port of Spain Jason Gordon says there is "more than enough" room in denominational schools to accommodate registered Venezuelan children.

The Catholic Board, he said, is fully prepared to begin receiving these children but nothing can be done until the relevant State authorities grant approvals.

Gordon was speaking at a joint select committee of Parliament meeting on human rights, equality and diversity on Friday. This meeting focused on the treatment of migrants.

He said children's education ought not to be treated as an option but a fundamental human right. He added that it is also crucial when it comes to national security.

"...Because if this child grows up in the country and is uneducated, we going to have trouble down the road."

He said the Catholic Board has done "everything possible to get these children into schools.

"We have worked with all the denominational boards and we have more than enough places for the registered children of the country to be enrolled into our schools. We've been preparing teachers for those children to come into our school system."

In 2019, government allowed 16,500 Venezuelans migrants to become registered. Although free to live, work and contribute to this country, registered migrants are not allowed basic freedoms which citizens enjoy such as access to public health and schooling.

The Prime Minister had said that if it chooses to do so, the Catholic Board can provide education for the children who are registered.

Gordon said a list of these children who were in need of education has been submitted to the Ministry of National Security. What is missing, he said, is a mechanism to get the children into the schools.


"We have the schools, places available that would not displace any national children from education, we have the teachers prepared and the principals prepared..."

Officials from the Education Ministry were asked what has been put in place to allow this specific group of migrant children to become registered given hurdles such as lack of documentation.

Instead, chief education officer Anna Singh spoke of the general process for all migrant children, saying information is readily available on the ministry's website, which anyone can check. In addition, she said applications can be submitted at its district and head offices, as well as online.

Committee chairman, Senator Dr Muhammad Yunus Ibrahim said Singh was using too many broad terms and that is was "not satisfactory" to say information is available on the ministry's website.

"How is the outreach system tailored to migrants," he asked.

The ministry's director of school supervision Aaron Ramrattan said migrants are free to interact with principals or bring someone to assist them if there is a language barrier. Once there is space, and official documents can be provided, children can get into schools.

Singh said the ministry is unable to suggest a system "that is not in line with the immigration laws...There are no alternatives at this time."

Committee member, Opposition Senator Jearlean John said this country should "hang (its) head in shame" given how migrants are treated here.

On the topic of educating children, she asked, "Why can't we have a special route that doesn't flout the law?"

She said it takes a Cabinet note or "quick passage in Parliament" to get these children into the school system.

NO RESPONSEPresident of the Catholic School Board Sharon Mangroo said that in April 2020, the Catholic Board submitted an application to the Ministry of National Security for 150 migrant children to attend schools. It got no response.

A follow-up letter was sent in September 2020 and to date, Mangroo said, no response has been forthcoming.

National Security Ministry's acting Permanent Secretary Nataki Atiba-Dilchan said it would take some policy changes and legislation, which, admittedly, "We have not pushed forward quickly enough."

She said that group of children is not qualified under the ministry's current stipulations.

Asked if a draft of such a policy exists, she said she cannot say.

However, Mangroo said that in 2019, at least 2,500 registered Venezuelan children were seeking entry into the school system.

Committee member, Independent Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye said TT has a responsibility to both documented and undocumented migrants.

"If you all hear one lesson here today, please understand that. We should not be talking about 'if'...

"Once the children here, we have that responsibility to give them all their rights. We cannot consider whether they're documented or not. We cannot! When are we going to stop this?"

Speaking to Newsday on Friday afternoon, Venezuelan parents sought to remind officials that their children are humans too.

Carmen Contreras, a mother of two, said education is an international right that must be addressed by government.

"Our children are not to blame for the socio-economic situation of our home country. They are children, human beings who deserve an education," Contreras said.

She said she came to TT five years ago with her now seven-year-old and nine-year-old daughters.

"The Archbishop himself is recognising there are enough spaces for migrant children. What is the problem then to allow them to study," she asked.

Another parent, Luis Marquez was optimistic about Gordon's intervention.

"It's never too late. I hope the government definitely opens schools for our children," he said.

Marquez, who has four children, added, "My children are studying in the UNHCR Equal Place programme. They are prepared to enter any school.

"TT is a country where education is a priority. In each community, there are two or three schools and a Catholic school nearby. So there are spaces to incorporate these migrant children."

Both parents asked the church not to abandon the fight for the education of migrant children and asked migrant-support organisations to get involved as well.

In a recent statement, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar called on the government to integrate Venezuelan migrants and their children into society and receive legal entitlements.


"Archbishop: Enough space in schools – TEACH MIGRANT CHILDREN"

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