Ramdeen: T&T needs border protection plan

Wednes­day’s tragedy con­cern­ing the Venezue­lan boat which over­turned en route to T&T re­in­forces the need for this coun­try—as Venezuela’s clos­est neigh­bour—to have a bet­ter bor­der pro­tec­tion frame­work, says the Op­po­si­tion Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress.

Op­po­si­tion sen­a­tors spoke about the is­sue yes­ter­day fol­low­ing their meet­ing with the Elec­tion and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion.

Mul­ti­ple deaths were feared af­ter the “Jhon­naly Jose,” be­lieved to have been car­ry­ing 34 peo­ple—main­ly women—over­turned en route to Trinidad’s west coast on Wednes­day. The ves­sel sank near Patos Is­land, five miles off Venezuela’s coast­line and in Venezuela’s mar­itime res­cue co-or­di­na­tion zone.

Yes­ter­day evening, act­ing Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter Ed­mund Dil­lon said T&T’s Coast Guard re­port­ed nine peo­ple were res­cued—but 25 oth­ers were still un­ac­count­ed for up to then. The T&T Coast Guard was aid­ing search/res­cue op­er­a­tions.

The Unit­ed Na­tions Refugee Unit (UN­HCR) in T&T, re­spond­ing via re­lease, not­ed the pirogue’s pas­sen­gers in­clud­ed women and chil­dren. UN­HCR added, “This trag­ic in­ci­dent un­der­scores the des­per­a­tion of those forced to flee their homes and the ex­tra­or­di­nary dif­fi­cul­ties faced on their jour­neys.”

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, UNC Sen­a­tor Ger­ald Ramdeen said the Op­po­si­tion didn’t have all the in­for­ma­tion, “But we ex­press deep­est con­do­lences to the Venezue­lan fam­i­lies af­fect­ed by the tragedy and the Venezue­lan peo­ple. It’s very un­for­tu­nate peo­ple may have lost their lives in this in­ci­dent and there were no pa­trols near­by to as­sist.”

Ramdeen ques­tioned if the boat which over­turned had been bring­ing peo­ple to T&T to try to ac­cess this coun­try’s up­com­ing amnesty for Venezue­lans. Say­ing Gov­ern­ment had al­ways de­nied the ex­is­tence of a hu­man­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in Venezuela, he added that the cri­sis is ob­vi­ous­ly cost­ing lives.

“We’ve heard Gov­ern­ment say they were mak­ing ef­forts to put 14 in­ter­cep­tors in­to use af­ter sev­er­al years. But T&T doesn’t have time to waste on this. The Coast Guard must have a bet­ter abil­i­ty to pa­trol sur­round­ing wa­ters in view of the what’s tak­ing place in Venezuela,” Ramdeen said.

“Sea trans­port is a prob­lem that af­fects the lives of every­one, whether they’re try­ing to come from Venezuela to T&T or vice ver­sa. Al­so, some­times peo­ple need to be pro­tect­ed from them­selves. This in­ci­dent re­veals the dis­turb­ing fact that we’ve not had any pol­i­cy from Gov­ern­ment though its elec­tion man­i­festo promised broad­er pro­tec­tion pol­i­cy. But noth­ing’s been done. The south­west bor­der isn’t manned prop­er­ly, which is why T&T’s suf­fer­ing a mi­grant cri­sis cur­rent­ly.”

UNC Sen­a­tor Sad­dam Ho­sein said un­der the Law of the Sea, any T&T ves­sels in the area where the pirogue over­turned would have been ob­lig­at­ed to re­spond and a prop­er bor­der pro­tec­tion frame­work might al­so have en­sured a bet­ter T&T pres­ence in sur­round­ing wa­ters.

“Pret­ty soon we might see the wa­ter taxi hav­ing to re­spond to is­sues at sea,” Ho­sein said.

- by Gail Alexander.  Photo by Nicole Drayton.