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US-based group wants support for Venezuelan refugees in Trinidad and Tobago

By CMC

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Jan 29, CMC – A United States-based organisation which advocates for better support for displaced and stateless people is calling on the international community to continue supporting the response to the needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Trinidad and Tobago.

Refugees International (RI), which promotes itself as a global, independent advocacy organization that successfully challenges governments, policymakers and administers, said donors should fund the US$35-million Caribbean sub-regional refugee and migrant response plan.

In a report titled “Forced into Illegality: Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants in Trinidad and Tobago,” RI said that it is also recommending that the Trinidad and Tobago government should establish in the short-term a temporary special regularization or other emergency measures to give undocumented Venezuelans and other irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees an avenue to apply for short-term residence and work permits.

RI said that the Americas are facing their largest displacement crisis in modern history with three million Venezuelans having fled their homes to escape the economic and political situation.

RI said that while international attention has largely focused on how this crisis is playing out in some of Venezuela’s larger Latin American neighbours rather than Caribbean nations, the response in the Caribbean deserves no less scrutiny.

“The total number of arrivals of Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago is much lower than that in many Latin American countries. However, as a percentage of its population, it has received more Venezuelans than almost any other country.

“There are very serious concerns about xenophobia against Venezuelans in the country. Furthermore, Trinidad and Tobago does not provide Venezuelans with adequate assistance or access to protection and services, nor has it offered any special temporary status to them, as many Latin American host countries have done,” Refugees International said in its 15-page report.

It said that Port of Spain should developed migration policies in the medium to long-term that create opportunities for undocumented Venezuelans and other irregular migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees to obtain legal status, including the right to work, in circumstances where return to their countries of origin would impose unreasonable hardship.

RI is also urging the Trinidad and Tobago government to enact legislation on refugees and asylum that enshrines the Refugee Convention and Protocol in domestic law and includes a right to work and access to education, as well as to clarify its asylum policy and the status of its 2014 Refugee Policy.

The US-based group is also urging the government to use alternatives to immigration detention and ensure that policies are in place to reduce the use of and time spent in immigration detention through several measures, including waiving security bonds or deposits for asylum seekers when an Order of Supervision is approved, as was previously the policy, and invest in systematic training for police, immigration officials, and members of the judiciary to promote understanding of the asylum process and refugee rights.

It is also asking the government to ensure that immigration detainees have easy access to asylum registration and to voluntary repatriation to their home countries if they freely choose this option, as well as to enable children to attend school regardless of their legal status.

“Develop an anti-xenophobia campaign to counter popular misconceptions among host communities by explaining the realities facing Venezuelans at home and in Trinidad and Tobago. This would assist in countering popular misconceptions amongst the host community,” RI said.

It is also calling on the United Nations to build the capacity of local Trinidadian organizations to engage more with refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, and help them to access core funding.

“Ensure that Venezuelan civil society organizations (CSOs) are included in the meetings of the new UNHCR-IOM-led Regional Platform” and “provide incentives to Trinidadian NGOs and international NGOs (INGOs) to engage specifically in areas that lack support, namely cash-based interventions, education, psychosocial support including counselling for victims of gender-based violence (GBV), and livelihoods”.

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