Editorial

The Dilemma Facing Asylum Seekers…

The Dilemma Facing Asylum Seekers…

It has finally happened. This country has made the international news, for its treatment of asylum seekers. On November 19th, the Miami Herald published an article titled “Risk jail or go hungry. Venezuelans working abroad face stark choices.” It began with the story of Alex, a Venezuelan national, who admittedly came to Trinidad illegally, because he was unable to get a passport in his native country. Once he was here though, he followed the legal process, and applied for asylum. One month later, he fell ill, and when he finally got out of the hospital, he was detained by immigration officials. Despite having an asylum application, he was charged with entering the country illegally and deported to Venezuela in April along with 81 other Venezuelans. He’s managed to get back in the country, but is now afraid to try to seek asylum again for fear of a repeat. Some may say that if he came to Trinidad illegally, then it’s only fair that he be charged accordingly. But we must bear in mind that this individual isn’t an ordinary immigrant. He came here seeking asylum and was in the process of having his application processed.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, any individual can claim asylum before an immigration official in writing or verbally, at the border or any port of entry. Application is free and you must stay in the country while awaiting determination of your claim. If an individual leaves at any time without prior communication to the Refugee Unit and the UNHCR, it may be considered abandonment of the asylum claim. As stated before, this individual was forced to enter the country illegally, but so are most of those fleeing Venezuela. Many claim they are being deliberately targeted by the Government because they are opposition supporters. So it’s not difficult to believe that this may also be the reason why they don’t have proper documents to start with.

Now the issue of an influx in illegal migrants is a very real issue that we here in T&T must recognize and deal with. But it doesn’t need to be the problem that some sectors in society are making it out to be. It is instead a challenge that must be dealt with using a level of compassion. These are not people who want to be here. These are people who need to be here, because staying where they were would mean almost certain death. Once we can verify that these persons are not here for nefarious purposes or to cause chaos, then they should be allowed to integrate. Many of these persons aren’t here to live off the fat of the land – they are willing to work and pay their own way. This of course will raise issues regarding the availability of jobs, but this is where the aforementioned ‘challenge’ lies.

While T&T does not have a proper law to deal with the specific situation before us, there is an accepted global standard outlined by the UNHCR. But even that is being dismissed, and by those in authority. Back in April, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley stated outright that he would not allow the United Nations or any other international body to convert this country into a refugee camp. Our Government is woefully blind and inactive, in providing support for these asylum seekers. We should be doing more.

Web Master

November 26th, 2018

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