By Darrion Narine
Programme Manager, AMMR
In a recent ruling of the High Court, it was declared that the 1951 Refugee Convention obligations do not apply and cannot be enforced in Trinidad and Tobago.
This latest development is another divergence from international human rights and international best practices for refugees and asylum seekers. Personally, this ruling does not come as a major surprise since vulnerable communities in Trinidad and Tobago continue to be neglected by those with the power to influence and action change.
This ruling contributes to the narrative that asylum seekers are not welcomed in Trinidad and Tobago. Xenophobia continues to be rampant across the country and our systems and structures are in desperate need of revision.
There are decisions being made without justifications or proper analysis and they will have long-term impacts on our communities and our society. Children of Venezuelan refugees remain uncertain as to whether they will be allowed to enter the school system in Trinidad and Tobago.
Although there is a recent push by the government for all migrant children to be educated, the processes are far too slow. We are playing with the lives of people and our society will suffer when we lose our humanity and fail to see the urgency behind children being educated and placed into safe spaces.
The Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) have established several Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) across our parishes in Trinidad and Tobago.
However, they are under-resourced and cannot offer the same support as a school that is part of the national system. These children need to be educated and this must happen soon. Children who are out of school are more susceptible to sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
Migrant and refugee women are also experiencing many forms of violence and abuse. They are being manipulated and forced into sex work. In many instances they are promised honest work and then their passports are taken away and they are enslaved.
In other circumstances, migrant and refugee women are victims of domestic violence and inter-partner violence and because they are not nationals of the country, their cases are not always taken seriously.
Abuse of Venezuelan nationals is often reported at our detention centres as well, and they do not have proper access to legal aid and assistance. There are also cases where children are detained. We continue to work with many children and women who are suffering from extreme trauma.
I am concerned that this can have dire consequences for us as a people. When we fail to see the humanity in those in need, we lose our spiritual direction, and we lose sight of the Kingdom of God. People forget that Jesus was a migrant child fleeing from genocide and persecution. We cannot turn a blind eye to those who come to our shores in need of help.
Trinidadians are of the assumption that Venezuelan nationals are a threat to our society because they are here to take their jobs or because they contribute to crime. When we take on this view and play into stereotypes, we do more harm than good. We must take on a more collaborative spirit and see all the possibilities.
The arrival of migrants to our shores provides an opportunity to improve our economy and develop a stronger workforce. There are also significant opportunities for trade, since Spanish is quickly becoming a strong second language in our country which will help many businesses strengthen trade relations with Latin American countries.
Additionally, we are seeing many great relationships, friendships and cultural developments occurring through the integration and mixing of different peoples. This is a time to be excited. We are a blessed nation, and we should always be happy to share that blessing with others.
May God inspire you to make a difference.
The CCSJ asks for your support.
Catholic Commission for Social Justice
Account #: 290 458 025 501
Bank: Republic Bank Ltd.
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