Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon told a Joint Select Committee (JSC) of the Parliament that Catholic schools are prepared to assist with the education of migrant children but there isn’t a mechanism for them to be admitted into these schools.
He made the comment Friday, May 26, while speaking at the JSC on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity-Treatment of Migrants. The committee, chaired by Government Senator Dr Muhammed Yunus Ibrahim, met online, and brought together officials from the Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education, Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Living Water Community (LWC), and the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights.
Issues raised dealt with labour, education, sexual exploitation, crime, and the systems to address them.
Also attending was the Chief Executive Officer of the Catholic Education Board of Management (CEBM) Sharon Mangroo and Darrion Narine, Programme Manager, Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees/Catholic Commission for Social Justice.
Archbishop Gordon said four years ago the prime minister said the Catholic Church can take responsibility for the education of migrant children. The education of a child is a fundamental human right and important for national security. He said leaving a child uneducated can lead to trouble “down the road.”
“We have done everything possible to get those 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 have been preparing those teachers,” he said.
Archbishop Gordon stated that former Ministers of National Security and Education met three years ago to work out how this would happen. He added that a list of children known to be registered was submitted to the current National Security Minister.
“We have the schools, space available that will not displace any national child from education, we have the teachers prepared and the principles prepared. What we can’t get is a mechanism to get these children into our schools to be educated,” Archbishop Gordon said.
In February 2021, an online training session hosted by the CEBM in collaboration with LWC, was held for Catholic teachers to impart the knowledge and skills needed to facilitate the transition of migrant children into schools where spaces are available.
Asked by MP for Port of Spain South, Keith Scotland about his thoughts on the abuse and exploitation of migrants, particularly children, Archbishop Gordon replied the biblical mandate is to assist the migrant, widow and vulnerable.
He commented: “When a society, person or we as a people allow for exploitation of the migrant, widow, the most vulnerable, we are displaying the worst of ourselves as humans, and many times people are preyed upon because they can be preyed upon. What that actually betrays is a poverty even of our human dignity, we prey upon people because we can.”
The Archbishop believes not enough has been done in T&T in protection, care, and advocacy of migrants. “Especially protecting them from abuse, especially when they are in the care of the official parts of Trinidad and Tobago. I see this as a very grave matter, one we should be concerned about.” He called all abuse evil.
Simone Aguilera-Hay, LWC Education Manager, highlighted that the education service provided by non-governmental organisations like LWC, could be impacted by reduced funding from donors even while government deals with the legislative barriers for migrant children getting into T&T schools.
She said, “We have been able to have a significant impact for the education of the migrant, refugee children with over 1400 children at present on our enrolment list. This parallel support is simply not sustainable.”
Aguilera-Hay alerted that since 2020, donor support has been “dwindling rapidly” to LWC and other organisations providing child-friendly spaces across the country.
Since the government’s registration process for Venezuelan migrants in 2019, there has been three years of loss of learning for migrant children. “That is a significant amount of time in a child’s life, and we simply can’t allow this; some sort of focus or more urgency and attention be placed on getting these children into schools,” Aguilera-Hay said. —LPG