By Darrion Narine – Programme Coordinator for the Catholic Commission for Social Justice/Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.
The Venezuelan socio-political crisis has resulted in many of our neighbours coming to the shores of Trinidad and Tobago. In search of a better life or just out of sheer desperation, many have jumped on a pirogue and spent their last dollar in search of a brighter tomorrow.
That tomorrow may sometimes never come, leaving broken hearts, shattered dreams and deep sadness with their family and friends.
I often imagine what being a refugee would be like and I try my best to empathise with those who are always shifting from place to place trying to fulfil their physiological needs.
I especially empathise with those who are here alone and who spent their first Christmas away from their family. Although these situations are all very sad, I feel it the most for the children who cross the waters and experience trauma that will take years to undo.
Beyond this, I think about the children who are being trafficked through our borders or those who are unaccompanied and unattached, vulnerable to the evil forces that exist within our own country.
The migrant/refugee children are the most vulnerable, especially during this pandemic, and it is essential that we do everything within our capacity to assist them.
I have seen many people attacking the work that various religious organisations and ministries do to assist these people across Trinidad and Tobago, and I have to wonder if they have even taken a moment to consider the children. Is it that these people are considering leaving these children to fend for themselves?
The UN convention on the rights of the child states that every child has a right to not be discriminated against and that migrant/refugee children should get help and protection and have the same rights as children born in that country.
It is our responsibility to ensure that these social justice principles are upheld. In fact, I will even state that it is our Catholic duty to do so.
On another note, I believe that we need to have further research done on the impact of migrants and refugees on our economy. I have heard many people say that the Government is spending a lot of money on migrants or that the migrants are “thiefing jobs”. When I ask how or if they have the statistical data to support their claims, they are unable to answer.
Many people engage in ‘othering’ because it gives them social power over a group in society. It is essential that we are cautious and ensure that we do not fall into this trap but rather that we truly engage in deep conversation and analysis before making arbitrary claims.
It is also essential that we notice that even though resources are spent on migrants and refugees, in many ways they are also active contributors to our labour force and wider society. I have even seen cases where migrants and refugees are willing to help others in need.
One such instance occurred during this Christmas season. I engaged in a house repair project with some friends, inclusive of two migrants (a Venezuelan and a Cuban) who volunteered their services to assist a Trinidadian family in need. These acts of kindness and love are the unseen and unheard experiences and contributions that many ignore in their conversations about migrants and refugees.
It is imperative that we speak up and speak out when we see these things happening, for love, kindness and humanity knows no nationality or race.
As Pope Francis said in his World Day of Peace message: “At a time like this, when the barque of humanity, tossed by the storm of the current crisis, struggles to advance towards a calmer and more serene horizon, the ‘rudder’ of human dignity and the ‘compass’ of fundamental social principles can enable us together to steer a sure course.”
Let us begin steering a course towards a more loving and understanding society.