SOCIAL JUSTICE – rcsocialjustice.org
Matthew Pierre, Community Liaison Officer, AMMR
The underlying challenge causing all other challenges faced by migrants and refugees is the lack of a refugee law enacted within Trinidad & Tobago. With this piece of legislation, the state would permanently recognise migrants/asylum seekers as having the status of a refugee, which would guarantee their safety, protection, and grant the opportunity for social/material assistance. Subsequent to that, the lack of meaningful integration and hostility towards their acceptance within T&T society are the two root causes of challenges faced by migrants and refugees living in T&T.
Having this status recognition, and attitudinal change towards social acceptance would provide persons of concern with the opportunity to restart their lives in peace and security, be treated as equals within society, and have their human rights protected and upheld. Currently, without this local law and recognition, despite our nation being signatories of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, they are left in a state of political limbo, and social dependency through effected temporary fixes. In the existing legal framework, they are viewed through the lens of our immigration law as being illegal migrants instead of refugees, that is, someone who was forced to flee for their survival due to causes such as persecution or violence, and someone who is deserving of state and social protection. Thankfully, NGOs, faith-based organisations, and civil society organisations do receive some support and allowances by the government to tackle the social issues faced by the local migrant and refugee. Nonetheless, the will and effort is below standard and satisfactory levels compared to other developed countries.
These two underlying challenges have caused people within this community to experience fear, distrust, inequality, poverty, exploitation, abuse, racism, marginalisation, exclusion and the glass ceiling effect within our society. They are often treated inhumanely with impunity by locals, and because of these experiences, they have recourse to risky behaviours and avenues for survival, to the detriment of our society, as they are limited in their ability to care for themselves, receive protection, and to make good and meaningful contributions to our Trinbago society.
The Church has been very vocal and practical in its advocacy for the humane treatment of migrants and refugees. This mainly through the work of the Living Water Community, the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) and the Archdiocese Ministry for Migrants & Refugees (AMMR). We assist in different ways, but our approach to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has been to reject no one in need of assistance, to be our brother’s keeper, and to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees in their plight. We recognise them as equal people, human beings, to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their nationality and political/social status in accordance with our Catholic social justice principles.
The AMMR primarily helps the community through its network of Parish Ministries for Migrants & Refugees (PMMR) which comprises parishioners and volunteers who offer mostly basic needs, and survival assistance to all migrants and refugees. Some of these ministries go beyond the basics to provide support and limited access to community-based education, healthcare, protection, shelter, and sustainable living. Building on the capacity of our AMMR network through our PMMRs, the AMMR coordinates activities and resources to offer further organisational support to the community through our three main humanitarian response programmes: our Child Friendly Spaces, Alternative Care, and Refugee Day Community Outreach Programmes. The Living Water Community on the other hand, has their social welfare programmes and support services for migrants such as their Equal Place, Legal Assistance, Refugee Registration, and Cash Assistance programmes, among others.
I would like to make an appeal to us Christians, Trinbagonians, to recognise and remember four things, which serves as my motivations for caring about migrants and refugees, and for working to help the situation they find themselves in, rather than to attempt to aggravate further: that in God’s eyes, we are all human beings with equal dignity deserving of the right to life, to live in peace, and of justice. We are the same despite our differences. Secondly, our ancestors were also immigrants who came to our shores, be it by choice or by force, and our blood is like a Callaloo dish mixed by many ethnicities and bloodlines. Thirdly, remember our reputation as a country as being hospitable, charitable, and good people. Remember, it can happen to us, too. We are not insulated from political unrest, corruption, crime, drugs, inflation, food shortages, economic instability, effects of climate change, communism/socialism and all the other factors which caused Venezuela’s government and economy to collapse.
On the individual level, be like the good Samaritan in the gospel. Have a heart despite the general hostility towards persons of this community. Be helpers, good neighbours. Many migrants would tell you that had it not been for the one-to-one direct individual help and care of many compassionate people they would not have been able to survive ongoing hardships, Covid-19, and the increased difficulties of life in T&T. Support the work of the Church, of the gospel, of the Kingdom of God, of Catholic charities and humanitarian organisations by volunteering, donating goods, financing, and standing up for migrants and refugees who face xenophobia, discrimination, victimisation and other forms of injustice through your nearest Parish Ministry.