You are here

Faris on refugees coming to T&T: Govt focusing on T&T citizens

Published: 
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Faris Al-Rawi says the Government is seeking to ensure disadvantaged T&T citizens are provided with improved resources before more can be done to allow refugees to live here.

Al-Rawi said that in response to questions from the T&T Guardian about the need for specific legislation to assist foreigners seeking refugee status in this country. World Refugee Day will be observed tomorrow.

Al-Rawi said, “Really, our first focus must be on the people of T&T because our system is so fissured and so cracked, in many senses, that our own people are not seeing the benefits of their own experience and their own economic wealth.”

He added, “Before we even get to that venture (specific refugee legislation) we have got to make sure that our most disadvantaged citizens have the kind of access that they ought to have, first. So I can’t see that we can open a flood gate for refugees where we have 250,000 families living in squatting conditions where electricity, water and social services are not being delivered.”

He said the Government was “dusting and dealing” with the issue of “how do we transfer the value of taxpayers’ dollars to citizens in a fair and equitable fashion. That has to be a precursor to considering the issue of refugee status.”

Al-Rawi also said the need for specific refugee legislation “as a matter of policy must be driven by data and the data has to come from the immigration authorities”.

The AG insisted that he had “not seen any knock on the door for that, nor am I aware of anything coming to Cabinet from the Ministry of National Security.

He admitted: “This particular Government has not considered the issue of an amendment to our immigration legislation so as to permit refugee status.”

Commenting on the perceived increase in Venezuelan nationals living here, Al-Rawi said: “We are being very accommodative of the situation with our neighbours in particular. We have been managing the situation with our very close neighbour, Venezuela.”

He said the T&T Government “has been lending assistance to the people of Venezuela via the provision of goods and services.”

More than 600 foreigners have applied to the UNHCR—The UN Refugee Agency in Port-of-Spain—seeking refugee status here. Among them were nationals of Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba.

For the past month, a Cuban mother, Yanely Vera, has been protesting peacefully outside the UN office on Chancery Lane, Port-of-Spain.

Another Cuban, Yanete Camacho, who spoke on behalf of Vera, told the T&T Guardian: “We are Cubans, we are refugees and we have no place to work or school for our children.” According to Camacho, at an initial meeting with UN officials they were told they might not be able to secure a home for another year or two. She said they are willing to live in T&T or any other country willing to accept them, including the United States, Canada, or France.

Camacho said there were hundreds of Cubans in T&T looking for a home and a place to work. “We need to live normally because we are humans and we have rights,” she said, insisting that they cannot live in Cuba. “We need answers, we don’t need words (talk), we need action. We, Cubans, need a normal life, we have our family and many children here.” She said the group will continue to protest until they get a country to live and work.

At a recent UNHCR workshop in Port-of-Spain, protection officer Ruben Barbado said there was need for specific legislation to be approved in this country to assist the applicants status.

Yesterday, Al-Rawi said T&T was a small island state economy, which, like other nations, was “under significant resource constraint pressure.” He said under the existing Immigration laws people who wish to stay in this country can apply for the minister’s permission, “they can seek residency status and could apply for citizenship,” he said.

Al- Rawi said refugees were usually accommodated in some of the more advanced economies that have not only the economic capacity but also the physical land space and social infrastructure to deal with refugee status

According to Al-Rawi one of the most important considerations for granting lawful refugee status was the potential security risk of the applicant.