For every country, every nation, and every people, there is a moment of reckoning. A moment in time when a nation is faced with a challenge that forces it to decide, - not through rhetoric, but rather through actions in the most practical of terms - what it stands for.
As a nation, we stand by the principle that we were “forged from the love of liberty…”. We believe that every “creed and race can find an equal place…”
Most of all, we stand for ‘tolerance’.
The Crisis taking place in Venezuela is something that has had a very real impact on the reality within our small twin island Republic. It has forced many of us to adjust. At the same time it has also brought out some of the baser instincts among some of our fellow citizens. From the soliciting of prostitution, to human trafficking, it’s becoming more and more clear that the reality for many Venezuelans fleeing their unstable homeland and moving into Trinidad isn't too rosy. Couple this with the general xenophobic tone of even some of our more respectable and law-abiding fellow citizens and one could only imagine the sort of difficulty being experienced by our brothers and sisters from the South American mainland.
One is forced to ask the question, is it possible that Trinbagonians are capable of such unwelcoming and inhumane treatment? Do we not have a responsibility to help those in need?
To go through the legality of Venezuelan migration to Trinidad or the need for a systematic framework for accepting those ‘economic migrants’ from Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago would be a much too broad a task for this brief blog post. What I would prefer to focus on is the general public sentiment of the average Trinbagonian concerning Venezuelan migrants. What is our disposition to someone seeking refuge from an unbelievably difficult situation? Quite frankly we ought to be sympathetic to their cause, empathetic to their plight, and reflect this in our actions toward them.
The reality of the situation is that regardless of what we attempt to do as a means of avoiding more Venezuelans entering into our country, the fact of the matter is that our geographical location and overall limited border security makes it almost impossible to remove ourselves from the overall situation. Venezuelans will continue to come in their numbers for the foreseeable future! Our responsibility is to place upon our politicians the necessary pressure to create a framework so that the process is smooth. The European Union affords us a great example of what to do and what not to do in dealing with a migrant crisis.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
As best as possible, for those Venezuelans who are already here, it’s our responsibility to integrate them as best as possible in everyday Trinbagonian life. Whether it’s ensuring, through charities or individual efforts, that the well being of those in need is made our concern. If you’re a church goer invite them to your church, make your concern their concern. If you work in a bakery, a car-shop, an office, see how best you can be of service to the ‘least of these thy brethren’.
As much as we are Trinbagonians, we are first and foremost human beings. And human beings ought to be treated as such, with a level of dignity. On the state level, quite frankly it’s the government’s job to ensure that they take the necessary measures to prevent human trafficking and prostitution among Vene-dadians or Trini-zuelans. Like it or not, they are becoming part of our national fabric.
IF THE SHOE WAS ON THE OTHER FOOT
Although this certainly ought not to be a justification for one to do the right thing, it still proves a compelling argument. Ask yourself the question: What if our Trinidad and Tobago faced a problem of similar magnitude? A natural disaster or political crisis. Think for a second, who would have thought just ten (10) years ago, with oil prices at over $100 per barrel, that one of the major oil producers – Venezuela – would find itself in such a dire situation.
Over a ten year period, say 2008 to the present, oil prices have plummeted from a high of around $150 to the present low - a 50% drop. The US has now become a major oil producer, Hugo Chavez is dead, and Donald Trump is US President. Trust me, circumstances can change fast.
When I hear the back and forth about Venezuelans “taking over our country”, I think of the irony. Descendants of African slaves and Indian indentured laborers taking issue with people having to move from their homeland and resettle due to circumstances out of their control; the hypocrisy! Not to engage in too much 'self-bashing', I do believe it to be a form of misplaced patriotism for us to be somewhat concerned that our country may become over-saturated with immigrants - but we must make space for compassion, we must speak to the higher ideals of our nation.
The fact of the matter is that in the overall arch of history, we’re all really travelers in the end. We came from some place, and we’re going some place, so let’s approach our moment of reckoning with bravery and compassion. The world is watching, and our history is being recorded.
Mikhail E.D. Byng was born in Trinidad. He is the author of Off the Island and a graduate student at the University of Belgrade. He speaks Serbian and English.
Trinbagonian. Traveler. Believer in God. Believer in Creation. Life long Student. Sports enthusiast.