The Trinidad and Tobago government on Wednesday said that it is unlikely that the 16,000 Venezuelan nationals, who have been given legal status to remain in the country would be deported or repatriated as it continued its criticism of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley in a second statement issued within hours amidst the controversy surrounding the return of a group of Venezuelans, including 16 children, who had been “deported” last Sunday, but returned to the country on Tuesday.
In his statement, Rowley said that this issue of allowing migrants in “is never a temporary situation,” noting “invariably it results in a permanent movement of populations and that is something well known to UNHCR personnel who exploit these crises to inflate and sustain their own operational budgets.
“Why do you think that our open registration netted 16,000 persons when the lines became empty after two weeks of registration yet the UNHCR personnel keep inflating the figure to 60,000 even as their own registration is 12,000?
“Is it that having provided comfort and legal registered status to the thousands of Venezuelans already here – many of whom came in illegally – that they now have the right to illegally import all their families, friends and trafficked customers into Trinidad and Tobago? The answer to this question is very simple and covered by existing laws including a visa system,” Rowley said in his statement.
“However, the next question that would and should exercise the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago is what is to happen with the thousands of Venezuelan families who are registered here?”
He said clearly it will not be acceptable for them to remain as people at the “margins of our society, eking out a living with children not able to be properly schooled or even being born here as new citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Clearly wholescale deportation or forced repatriation is not a feasible option. It is against this background that protection of all persons within our borders need to have their present and future circumstances protected by our suite of laws enacted specifically for this purpose,” Rowley said.
In his first strongly worded statement on Wednesday, Rowley criticised the international community, most notably the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the UNHCR saying his administration was not surprised at the unfolding situation given that the OAS “under its misguided (Secretary-General) President (Luis) Almagro has been almost singlehandedly responsible for triggering and fuelling the current Venezuelan situation”.
He said that these public officials have virtually declared war on Trinidad and Tobago for having the “temerity to have not joined Elliot Abrams and President (Donald) Trump in forcing violent regime change in Venezuela.
“Trinidad and Tobago is currently under the latest assault, using nameless, faceless people armed with innocent children, to try and force us to accept their understanding of “refugee status and international treaty” where a little island nation of 1.3 million people must be expected to maintain open borders to a next-door neighbour of 34 million people even during a pandemic,” Rowley said, insisting “this is a matter, not for the OAS, but for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“Currently we have closed our borders even to our own citizens in this pandemic and would resist all efforts by others who are hell bent on forcing open our borders through illegal immigration,” Rowley said.
On Tuesday, several Venezuelans, including 16 children, who were “deported” from the island on Sunday, returned to Trinidad and Tobago, even as National Security Minister Stuart Young urged citizens not to become “emotional” about the entire situation.
The UNHCR said that more than 50 children who braved crossing the Columbus Channel from Venezuela to be reunited with their families already in Trinidad and Tobago have been turned away by Trinidad and Tobago law enforcement authorities.
The Newsday newspaper reported Tuesday that the UNCHR had indicated that it had been aware of at least 39 children who had been returned since the beginning of the year.
In his latest statement, Rowley also dismissed the call by opposition legislator, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, who said that the “action of the government, is morally, legally and constitutionally indefensible” demanding “an urgent meeting of the joint select committee on national security to inquire into the circumstances of the deportation of children…
“the action of the government to deport while the action is before the High Court breeds of contempt”.
But Rowley in dismissing the opposition legislator said “did you hear the opportunistic carbuncle called Moonilal?
“Do you think his tone was too angry or too condemnatory of a country that has done more than any other in the region in response to the plight of migrants from Venezuelans? Are you all aware that if we appear to be a “soft touch “flexible border neighbour that in a jiffy we will be overrun by tens of thousands of Venezuelans.
“The fact is that even as you and others decry and bemoan our own circumstances here our life and living opportunities are still very attractive to many Venezuelans and others,” Rowley said.