The deportee challenge
Having conceded the futility of persuading the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom against shipping criminal deportees back to where they had been born, the Government is now belatedly seeking to cope with the reality of these unexpected and, to many, unwanted, new immigrants.
An all-day consultation yesterday, supported by the T&T government, highlighted efforts to raise awareness of and concern with the deportees and to advance planning and other arrangements to foster their productive and law-abiding resettlement. Minister of the People, Glenn Ramadharsingh, recognising the efforts of Vision on Mission, which runs a programme to help deportees, has apparently pledged to consider more funding for this NGO.
One assumes that all the necessary measures are in place to ensure full accountability in the use of these public funds. However, the challenges posed by the policy of deporting criminals back to their home countries requires more of the State than just financial support to an NGO and a social support perspective on the issue.
Trinidad and Tobago has already taken too long to come out of the blocks on this matter. From the beginning, the deportee issue has required a focused, coherent and integrated system that tracks, supports and monitors the deportee population while ensuring the capacity to intervene as required.
On the presumption that no deportee ever arrives here as a surprise, and that there is an open line of communication between immigrations authorities on all sides, every deportee who returns to T&T should be evaluated with a view to establishing their situation, their record, their needs and their threat level.
In this context, there is certainly a role for an NGO like Vision on Mission as a point of contact, information and support for criminal deportees, but it cannot begin and end there.
Issues arising from the growth of the deportee population require a level of monitoring and management well beyond the capacity of an NGO, especially in a context where its members are being blamed for rising crime levels and gang-related violence. This is a matter that needs to be treated with caution. For, in pointing fingers at deportees on hearsay, we run the risk of stereotyping and demonising an entire group of citizens. At the same time, close and careful monitoring is indispensable to effective policing of potential criminal activity by deportees.
It is clear that we need a more concerted response to the problems that have developed as a result of the policy of the US, UK and Canada. This is not a problem that will solve itself; more likely it will get worse. Some deportees arrive here having supported themselves through a life of crime, others were law-abiding until they fell afoul of the law and are now paying the high price of losing everything they had, including in some cases their families.
This is a spectrum disorder that requires an imaginative and effective response that brings together all the relevant agencies into a focused strategy.