By Sue-Ann Wayow
IT has been close to four years since thousands of Venezuelans have been legally allowed to work and live in Trinidad and Tobago and they are yet to be fully integrated into all other aspects of local society.
Political leader of the United National Congress (UNC) Kamla Persad-Bissessar is calling on Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to ensure that the migrant population has access to basic rights as T&T citizens such as education, healthcare and banking as well as paying taxes.
“The time has come for us to treat all of our brothers and sisters who have come here from Venezuela like fellow human beings deserving of respect and of equal opportunity,” she said on Monday at the UNC forum.
She has previously raised the issue of access to education last Monday night at a UNC forum at the Gasparillo Secondary School. The Opposition Leader spoke on the issues relating to the Venezuelans saying they continue to face exploitation, discrimination and denigration.
“I plea for the children, because a child is not responsible for where they are,” Persad-Bissessar said.
She said it was disappointing that the Government has not yet seen it fit to honour the international obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees but instead government implemented a haphazard policy in 2020, failing to follow up with any supporting program.
Persad-Bissessar raised the issue of education and said that migrants could not obtain drivers’ permits and they cannot be registered for National Insurance.
“They cannot tell employers that it’s ok to hire them because their migrant permits have expired. Their academic qualifications are not being recognised. They are unbanked. They are vulnerable to exploitation. You know they cannot go to court to declare that they have a legitimate expectation to a renewal. By the time the case is heard, it will be 19 years later,” she said.
Acknowledging that the public primary healthcare system was available to the migrants, Persad-Bissessar said it could not be that effective if medical staff do not speak their language.
“Some Venezuelans have had children in this country, but are afraid to register the births because they are afraid of the authorities. Some want to get married, but are also afraid to interface with the authorities. They should not be made to live in fear in a free country,” she added.
She called on Dr Rowley to:
1. To relieve the suffering of Venezuelan migrants and their children and allow those who are law abiding and contributing to the economy to be fully integrated into society.
2. To regularize those who hold migrant cards and have no police record.
3. To allow Venezuelan children to attend public schools to educate themselves.
4. To allow Venezuelan migrant card holders to be allowed to apply for drivers permits.
5. To allow part of medical staff to be trained in basic Spanish.
6. To allow Venezuelan migrants to pay all applicable taxes as Trinidad and Tobago citizens and to begin contributing to the NIS.