Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said on Thursday this country cannot be a solution to millions of Venezuelan migrants fleeing their country due to economic hardship nor could T&T be converted into a refugee camp.
Rowley’s statements at Thursday’s post-Cabinet media press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, came one week ahead of a planned two-week registration process which will allow Venezuelan migrants to work and live in this country legally for one year.
There has been a reported surge of migrants entering the country ahead of the May 31 to June 14 registration period but the framework for the process is far from being finalised.
Abel Resende Borges
Over 100 migrants who were arrested by police in the southern part of the country on Wednesday were allowed to stay for up to three months as the detention centre is already overcrowded.
Abel Resende Borges
In recent weeks, the Coast Guard has been stopping passenger ferries from docking at legal ports in Cedros but loaded pirogues have been landing at secluded beaches, bringing in many other families
Admitting that such influx had been generating public interest Rowley said: “As a Government, we have the responsibility to protect the interest of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Rowley said the policy they were following had to be adjusted as the circumstances changed
“The policy is now where we are faced with an influx threatening to be overwhelming for us.”
Comparing Venezuela’s population of 33 million to T&T’s 1.3 million citizens, Rowley said: “It doesn’t matter whose fault it is… Venezuela’s problem is for Venezuela. We are humanitarian. We are caring. But the help Trinidad and Tobago can give has to be limited. This little island cannot be a solution to millions or hundreds of thousands of migrants leaving Venezuela.”
Secondly, Rowley said, international agencies with different agendas seeking T&T’s interest will not encourage our country to convert “into any refugee camp for the larger Venezuelan population,” stating that “we would have to limit our exposure to the fallout from Venezuela.”
“Initially,” the PM said, “we allowed our doors to remain open to Venezuelan visitors for 90 days and return home
“But as things got worse, more of them came and we kept our doors opened. But there comes a time when the volume and presence of these migrants will threaten the quality of life of the people of T&T. And it falls from us to protect ourselves from that.”
Rowley said the registration process would give an account of how many Venezuelans are here, who they are and where they are
He, however, stated that the registration process had become a pull factor
Several churches and non-governmental organisations have extended shelter, clothing and foodstuff to the Venezuelans many of whom fled their country from political turmoil and economic stagnation
In keeping eyes on the number of people coming here requiring sustenance, Rowley said, they were not “naive…. the criminal element saw opportunities. And if we don’t manage our borders and keep our door sufficiently ajar to manage the flow through, then this new business of people choosing to enter the country other than the designated places to enter will overwhelm us.”
“As a result of this,” Rowley said, “we have been patrolling our borders, warning those who come here illegally that they will face deportation.”
Today, the National Security Council, which the PM chairs, will meet to talk about protection for our citizens, borders and the Venezuelan migrants
T&T’s coastline is seven miles from Venezuela, Rowley said, and it was impossible to keep the entire coastline fenced off from people who wanted to penetrate it
“When people come here illegally,” Rowley said, “they could possibly remain which was not a healthy situation for us.”
Rowley drew reference to the 101 Venezuelan migrants who were arrested on Wednesday by police during a crackdown in Palo Seco, Erin and Cedros
The migrants included 65 women, 21 men and 15 children
The Venezuelans were later released from custody after getting an order of supervision clearance from the Immigration Division to stay until July with no place to go
“You can’t just go and say you protecting our borders and then pick up 200 people, bring them from the border and let them go in the streets. And those who are trading in that business in human trafficking will find no end of suffering,” Rowley said, promising once they were found they will be “prosecuted.”
Those who engaged in criminal conduct, Rowley warned, would be deported
“We are now struggling with our own situation and yours.”