The unfolding tragedy in Venezuela continues to have reverberations in Trinidad and Tobago. The thousands who have fled our neighbouring state fill our streets and the visual impact is causing uneasiness, perhaps even some panic among our populace.
These South American refugees and economic migrants can be found in every nook and cranny of our land: in groceries, bakeries, beauty salons, on construction sites, on garbage trucks, in comfortable places and in places of misery and indignity.
While there is valid cause for concern that our already under-manned and ill-equipped social services will be further stretched and that criminal elements have slipped into the country with those genuinely seeking safety and the chance to escape starvation, it is imperative that we stop and take stock of our reactions to this unprecedented flood of migrants.
In the first place, their exodus from their own country was not undertaken out of a lack of patriotism or in an attempt to place undue and unfair pressure on this nation.
They did not leave their professional lives as medical doctors, academics and educators in preference for the long hours of frequently underpaid employment in workplaces that recognise the value of their work ethic but do not respect their dignity as contributors to our national good.
Many have left vulnerable family members behind in a desperate bid to send food and medical supplies where none are available or where there are severe and life-threatening shortages.
For many, their intention is not to remain in Trinidad and Tobago indefinitely but rather to wait, perhaps for intolerable lengths of time, until they can safely return to their families and friends and to the land of their birth.
What horror must have struck the hearts of the public when the recent drowning deaths of some 23 undocumented Venezuelan women, children and men were reported.
The incident was reminiscent of the oft-reported drownings in the Mediterranean of equally desperate refugees from Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and other beleaguered countries. This time, though, it happened so close to home.
What was even more horrific was that some bloggers in the print media and on social media platforms expressed outright delight that the ‘Venes’ had drowned.
Some said that it served the victims right and what was untold tragedy for their families and friends was a blessing for the country of their intended destination.
It is inconceivable that any of our people, whatever their number, should have reacted in this callous and bloodthirsty way. This paper condemns, without apology, this total lack of humanitarian care and the glee occasioned by the distress and suffering of others.
Today’s gospel (Jn 21:1–19) gives an account of the third time that Jesus showed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection. He causes their nets to be filled with fish where before they had caught nothing and He invites them to eat. He challenges Simon Peter to demonstrate his love for Him by feeding His lambs and looking after His sheep.
In our time and in our country, we are challenged to do the same. Nothing less will suffice. (See page 16)