Leela Ramdeen, chair of The Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR), and Simone Francois-Whittier, coordinator of AMMR, held a virtual meeting on July 30 with Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, Chief Immigration Officer (CIO), to clarify certain issues raised by the Minister of National Security Stuart Young.
At a Health Ministry press briefing on July 25 Minister Young has warned that action would be taken against locals who assist the illegal entry of migrants and landlords who accommodate them. He said Venezuelans with registration cards from the Ministry can have their status revoked if they are involved in human trafficking. Young said state agencies were receiving reports of persons entering illegally while TT’s borders remain closed.
He said: “The police are going to be launching operations. We have picked up a number of Trinidadians…bringing across illegal immigrants. They are going to be charged.”
On July 29, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Roshan Parasram, confirmed that one local case of COVID-19 is linked to someone who entered TT illegally.
A number of other issues were discussed, including the issue of “sanctuary”. There is no law in T&T that deals with this issue. As a result, nothing prevents Immigration and the Police from entering any premises to detain persons suspected of being in the country illegally.
Although T&T is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, in order for this international treaty to have any effect, it must be ratified and incorporated into T&T laws. This has not yet been done. The Convention defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.
The CIO stated that the Church can continue to distribute hampers to persons in need, including migrants. However, she emphasised the need for adherence to protocols to protect parishioners, the wider community and migrants from COVID-19.
Ramdeen and Francois-Whittier raised concerns about rising xenophobia towards Venezuelan migrants since the Minister’s statements. AMMR has been informed of persons who have been evicted by landlords subsequent to Young’s comments. The point was made to the CIO that this may pose a challenge to the wider community. If any of those who have been evicted are COVID-19 positive, there can be more rapid community spread.
Ramdeen told the Catholic News: “The fear that community spread may be caused, to some extent, by migrants coming in to T&T illegally, is cause for serious concern. While we are called to engage in Works of Mercy, we must also be concerned for the common good of all who live in T&T.”
The CIO undertook to inform AMMR of any protocols that are issued and which will inform the Church’s work with migrants.