THAT T&T nationals are involved in human trafficking, forced prostitution and exploitation of illegal immigrants’ labour should come as no surprise. The astonishment flows from the absence of structured national policies on migration in an age of globalism and large scale movements of people across the world.
T&T has historically been both a destination and a transit route for groups of people, many of whom contribute to this country’s unique and celebrated cosmopolitanism.
Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find another Caribbean location that is as heterogeneous as Trinidad, if not Tobago. The country has also accommodated immediate pre- and post-Independence immigrants from neighbouring Caribbean countries who have stayed and added to the economic and cultural landscape.
But openness to nationals of other countries, generous and heart-warming as it is, must be controlled and governed by thoughtful policies that balance humanitarian impulses, economic benefits and ensuring the well-being of those who are allowed to assume residence here.
Last year, Venezuelans were virtually invited by members of the business community to provide labour and purchase hard-to-get essential food items in this country; the Chaguanas Chamber of Commerce and the Supermarkets Association were among those who counted the benefits to the national economy of Venezuelans fleeing hardship in their own country.
National Security Minister Edmund Dillon then toured the Cedros immigration facility but nothing was said about what plans were in place to halt the inevitable and reportedly continuous inflow of vulnerable women and children, wildlife, drugs and weapons from the Venezuelan coast.
In September this year, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley asked the population to open their homes to Caricom brothers and sisters battered into homelessness by Hurricane Maria.
Two months later there has been no accounting of how many Dominicans accepted this country’s offer, how many chose to repatriate and what monitoring mechanism was introduced to ensure that those to whom we extended humanitarian assistance were not ensnared by pervasive criminality.
Immigration renders vulnerable both the receiving nation and immigrants themselves. Sexual exploitation of women and children is a common feature, as is the trafficking of illegal drugs, weapons and protected wildlife.
T&T has seen evidence of all these.
The two-day workshop on migrant smuggling being hosted by the Ministry of National Security is a step in the right direction.
From it should emerge data on modern migration into T&T; already, independent research consultant Leanne Waldrop-Bonaire has indicated the need for “a properly developed policy” that looks into “increasing opportunities for legal migrants to live and work in T&T” thus reducing the profitability of migrant smuggling.
Tightening our porous borders is an obvious strategy repeatedly spoken about over decades but is yet to be realised. The suggestions are not original and have proven worthwhile in other jurisdictions. A hard look at the issue and swift contemplation and implementation of a policy on immigration would be the most useful outcome of the workshop.