Q: Archbishop J, how can we meet the needs of Venezuelans who have come to our shores?
In 50 years, history will judge us on how we have responded to the Venezuelan crisis. Future generations will ask whether we did enough to assist our neighbours when they were in dire need; whether we used the present opportunity to exploit the vulnerable or to protect them. They will ask if the real need and distress of our neighbours led us to conversion.
Today, as we continue to register Venezuelans in T&T let us all ask what we can do to assist in this crisis. Or better, how can we turn this crisis into an opportunity for the integral development of Trinidad and Tobago.
The experience of the Venezuelan migrants among us raises significant points of reflection. Some 20 parishes have already begun a ministry to migrants and refugees.
Many of these have begun good work, as they focus on the many needs that this situation brings to the surface each day. Many citizens have stepped forward to assist directly.
We are recognising the “stranger” as a brother and sister, and are welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating them into our communities. The mirror is imaging a value system that is at the heart of our grandparents’ values—neighbourliness.
But in the mirror another image appears. The several rings engaged in trafficking young girls speak to the depravity that exists in Trinidad and Tobago. It warns us, that we are at moral risk. Some of our citizens have lost all ethical bearing.
Exploitation of the vulnerable suggests serious moral collapse. This exploitation relates not only to the organised rings that have turned young girls into sex slaves; it is also about the ‘good’ citizen who uses the migrant and refugee for cheap labour.
Following research conducted in September 2018, the International Organisation for Migration released an instructive bulletin. It states: “In terms of salaries, 27 per cent of surveyed individuals were earning at least Trinidad and Tobago’s mandated minimum wage, either rated hourly or monthly, while 47 per cent said that they were underpaid, with a salary lower than the minimum, and 26 per cent refused to answer.”
This could be read in two ways. Either well-intentioned people hired, out of a desire to assist even when they did not have a real job to give, or people are taking advantage of the migrants because of their desperate need for food and livelihood.
The migrants are holding up a mirror to us: they are helping us to see what we are really made of. Are we a decent moral people willing to do the right thing because it is right? Or, are we tricksters willing to skirt the law and exploit every situation to our advantage, regardless of who gets hurt?
The Venezuelan crisis must cause us to look in the mirror and see ourselves—the good, the bad and the ugly. It invites us to reflect on our moral choices. The migrant is holding up a mirror to us. Do you like what you see?
Welcome, protect, promote and integrate
Leadership is about making the right decision for the good of the group in the service of the common good. The Government, against all odds and with great opposition to the decision, has begun registering the migrants who are here in Trinidad and Tobago. This is a bold and courageous step of national leadership. It is the right step. We have to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
The right to work, to an education, to open a bank account and to stay and live in Trinidad and Tobago is a very big step in the right direction. In my visit to the women’s prison last month many asked whether they would be registered and released from the detention centre. This too is a very big step in the right direction.
The registration process is a huge undertaking. It will be complex and pose many challenges, but it is important. We all need to assist those for whom the process is intended, as best we can.
Once they are registered, we need to welcome, protect, promote and integrate. In this process every citizen needs to do his or her part. And yes, while we care for the migrants, we must also care for all those on the fringe of our society.
Now the real work begins. How do we protect these neighbours and integrate them into our country? How do we create win/win situations for them and for the people of Trinidad and Tobago? How do we serve the common good?
We know there are Venezuelan children living in Trinidad and Tobago. They have a human right to be educated. With the number of migrants who have come, I imagine there are experienced teachers amongst them.
What if we accept Venezuelan children in our schools and hire migrant Venezuelan teachers to teach them? What if we turn some classrooms bilingual, with children being instructed in Spanish and English? To have a generation of bilingual children in our country will be a game changer in 20 years’ time.
It will assist us to pivot to the south, to Latin America, in a most natural way. Better than bilingual street signs will be bilingual citizens who are at home in the language and culture of Latin America.
Food security is a major topic at the World Urban Forum. Many countries have deep analyses and policies governing food security. If there is a shortage, each nation needs to ensure they can feed themselves and export.
We have a lot of good agricultural land. There are many farmers who have come from Venezuela. Can we use this opportunity to kick-start agriculture, and increase local production and manufacturing?
We cannot integrate this new population into ours by fitting them into existing industries and jobs. This is a time to kick-start our economy by beginning new initiatives that utilise the skills of those who have come and create alternative industries. How many opportunities could we put on the table to begin this process of integrating?
Key Message: Welcoming and integrating the migrant is a core value of the Christian tradition. It is a great opportunity for us as a nation and for them, in their great need. We need to make this a win/win for all.
Action Step: Look in the mirror—the face of the Venezuelan. What do you see? What attitude and approach have you taken? What steps do you need to take to grow in your discipleship? How can you help one person this week?
Scripture Reading: Luke 10:25–37