‘We’re on top of it and plan to stay on top!’

FIKISWA TSABEDZE | 6/6/2019, 11:35 a.m.

Social observers say that the Venezuelan Registration program in Trinidad and Tobago might help address the alarming rates of human trafficking of Venezuelan women.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 60,000 Venezuelans have fled to Trinidad and Tobago to escape the poor living conditions in their country. Many are hoping to be officially listed in the registration process starting Friday, May 31, through June 14 in the T&T government’s amnesty program so they can get a chance to live and work legally for up to a year in T&T. According to acting Minister of National Security, Fitzgerald Hinds, a background check will be conducted prior to issue of a registration card. Those with a successful registration will be granted a temporary registration card; whereas, those who pose a threat to T&T’s national security will be deported.

The program may be a step to tackling the illegal sex work that is happening in the country due to Venezuelan women’s illegal status. Women fleeing the horrible political crisis in Venezuela find themselves being tricked into sex work because they cannot find work legally in the country.

Hinds stated that some of the benefits of the registration process include guaranteed protection in T&T under labour laws.

His stance is that registered Venezuelans will not be underpaid, overworked or exploited. Furthermore, the government hopes that they will be protected against any form of abuse, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. He stated that, “Some unethical people are using the Venezuelan crisis as an opportunity for personal gain which includes human smuggling and exploitation. We are on top of it and plan to stay on top!”

In April four Venezuelan women were freed from a fake police station in Diego Martin, Trinidad, after they had been kidnapped by three men and later raped. Recently, five Venezuelan women were discovered in a secret agricultural plot in Los Iros, Trinidad, where they were kept as sex slaves.

However, the registration program—which allows both illegal and legal Venezuelan immigrants to live and work legally in T&T for a year—might hopefully provide a way of protection for vulnerable persons.

The minister stated that T&T is accustomed to dealing with confidentiality, therefore, their information will be protected. Trinidadian journalist and cultural expert, Dawad Philip, told the Amsterdam News that the “government has more issues to worry about such as criminal activity coming through the boats, disease, drugs and guns.” Hinds exclaimed, “We will do thorough background checks. If it means collaborating with Interpol, we will!”

When asked what the long-term solution will be, Hinds communicated that, “As a nation [Trinidad] is willing and compassionate but can’t be a long-term solution. It’s a small country and can’t accommodate too many people.” T&T is 1,981 mi² with approximately 1.369 million people. His sentiment was echoed by Philip who shared that this crisis may be beyond Trinidad’s capacity. He mentioned that this is a humanitarian issue and T&T has no prior experience with dealing with a refugee crisis. Philip believes it will cost T&T a large amount of money, especially as the country is recovering from a recession.

Philip went on to share that there’s a lot going on in Trinidad, such as “people have been coming in illegally for years: Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese and Cubans.” He added, “There are also African immigrants who have been here as well. Venezuelans show up and get services, but Africans have been here and in prisons without much assistance. It’s not talked about, why? That’s a whole other level of discourse.”

People on the ground are saying that with the nation being a small state, unfamiliar with grappling with an influx of migrants and having finite resources, T&T is left with very few options.