Former Archbishop Joseph Harris on Wednesday pleaded with citizens to be compassionate and caring to Venezuelans who have been coming to our shores out of destitution, ill health, hunger and political strife.
Harris made the comment one day after National Security Minister Stuart Young announced an amnesty to Venezuelans residing here to register legally and possibly work for one year in T&T.
Young warned those who fail to register will feel the full brunt of the law.
Harris agreed with the Government’s stance, stating that T&T needed to set up a database for Venezuelans who have been fleeing their homeland due to socio-economic problems and political turmoil.
Once registered, Harris said Venezuelans should be allowed to work, pay taxes and be entitled to social services.
“We don’t have the wherewithal for people to come here and not pay taxes.”
In a passionate plea, Harris said: “if there was a famine in Trinidad and Venezuela or one of the countries which had (food) and we had nothing, we would be very happy to get help.”
Harris said he heard Trinidadians saying we should take care of our citizens first, stating that we ought to share what we have.
“I think if we do things well there will be enough for everybody. The problem is the corruption that goes on. The white-collar crime that puts all the money into the hands of a few people.”
Harris said it pains his heart every time there are clashes between civilians and military in the neighbouring country, which has led to many deaths.
The influx of Venezuelans, Harris admitted has been a worrying concern, as some have been coming her illegally with arms and ammunition.
He said some may steal due to hunger.
“Anybody who starts stealing should be sent back home,” Harris said.
Those who break the law, Harris felt should be deported by pirogues.
“We don’t have to send them back home in Venezuela by airplane. The same way they come, send them back,” he said.
Harris also spoke about the 19 Spanish-speaking girls who were rescued by police earlier this month during raids at a Chinese restaurant in Woodbrook and homes in Diego Martin and Westmoorings.
“People who are victims of human trafficking…I have friends who have disappeared and I know the pain that their families go through. We have to be very charitable to victims of human trafficking. Human trafficking is something I do not endorse, just like child brides.”
For years, Harris said human trafficking was ignored.
“I think people had been turning a blind eye.”
Harris holds the view that T&T should not interfere or intervene in Venezuela’s impasse.
“People have to take responsibility for their own country and it’s easy to say let the Americans come in.
The country which allows people to come in to solve their problems always has to pay something to the invader.
Venezuela has the wherewithal to look after themselves. Some people will die in order for others to live.
That is not a good thing but it has always been the way. But we in T&T never had to fight for anything.”
Harris said he did not want people to get the wrong impression, as he has never supported violence, but objected to the food and medicine being destroyed by President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
Humanitarian Association welcome initiative
Founder of the Humanitarian Association for Refugee in T&T Benedict Bryan said Young’s announcement of an amnesty for Venezuelans to register locally was a step in the right direction.
“It’s something a lot of NGOs and international bodies have been moving the Government towards.”
He said he hoped before the registry is set up the Government gets the input of all stakeholders to develop a policy.
“There are persons who would have fallen out of the system at Immigration Division. What is their recourse? I think there should be some kind of grace period for Venezuelans to come forward and register legally to track everyone before you can say they will feel the full brunt of the law.”
Bryan said Venezuelans currently register with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees through the Living Water Community.
He said the Venezuelans he has interacted with have skills at all levels.
He said the agriculture industry which has a labour shortage was one avenue of employment they can explore.
Reporter: Shaliza Hassanali