Sat | Feb 23, 2019

Trinidad prepares legislation to deal with asylum seekers

Published:Sunday | January 20, 2019 | 10:43 AM
A hazy view of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government says legislation which seeks to deal with asylum requests from foreign nationals has been prepared even as Venezuelan nationals staged a protest over what they described as “ignorance of the international protection on status” in the oil rich-twin island republic.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Parliament Friday that there were still a number of issues Port of Spain had to deal with regarding the refugee status matter including the number of asylum seekers in the country.

He said there were also questions to be answered regarding whether the country could afford to bear the costs of refugees and asylum seekers, providing them with housing, education and health care, when an estimated 173,000 citizens were still awaiting housing.

Al-Rawi said that a draft bill that seeks to deal with asylum for foreign nationals has been prepared and the Keith Rowley government is soon to begin talks with various stakeholders on the issue.

“It’s a very complex matter with serious implications for the national budget and national security,” Al-Rawi said, adding that there was also the availability of government resources and services for nationals that must be “carefully factored and measured.

“This sits directly on the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the tax payers. The people of Trinidad and Tobago will have to provide education, housing and medical treatment to refugees and asylum seekers.

Al-Rawi said that the government had not received any formal complaint from any international government on its interpretation of treaties on refugees.

He told legislators that domestic law can only be developed after treaties are ratified and Port of Spain had not ratified the two treaties it had acceded to on the issue.

Al-Rawi said the government had sought data on the number of persons seeking asylum and accommodation adding that the figures on accommodation had declined over the years from 80 to 20 annually.

“The issue that must be factored in for Trinidad and Tobago is how many people you will hold here, non-nationals accessing state resources with priority for education, medicines, housing, in priority to your citizens while moving 20 people out over a year.

“That’s why it’s an extremely complicated issue as to what the country, the national community is prepared to do in managing this,’ the Attorney General told Parliament, noting that the United States has limited the number of people it accommodates.

Meanwhile, several Venezuelan nationals have complained of violations of their rights, telling reporters that the Trinidad and Tobago Constitution establishes respect for human rights.

They told reporters that they faced sexual assault, blackmail and victimisation from citizens and officials as they seek sanctuary away from the unfolding political and economic situation in Cuba and Venezuela.

They told a news conference that they had written a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley seeking assistance and despite displaying documents and cards to illustrate their status, they were still being targeted and even brought before the courts.