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No Venezuelans will be turned away during 14-day registration period

—T&T National Security Minister

  • Stabroek News
  • 25 May 2019

Stuart Young

(Trinidad Guardian) Any Venezuelan national who arrives in this country before the end of the two-week registration process can apply to live and work here for up to a year.

This confirmation came from National Security Minister Stuart Young as he gave details for the first time on how the registration process will unfold between May 31 and June 15.

Young gave details of the process on Friday at the Ministry of National Security head office on Abercromby Street, Portof-Spain following a meeting of the National Security Council, which was chaired by the Prime Minister.

In the days before the start of registration, Young admitted, more Venezuelan nationals are likely to come ashore illegally.

Even as he spoke, police and immigration authorities were searching for a group that arrived in Cedros yesterday. The United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights estimated in April, there are between 40,000 and 60,000 Venezuelans in T&T. That figure has been growing daily as migrants come ashore in the dead of night at secluded inlets in several areas in the country — moreso in the southwestern peninsula which lies just seven miles away from the South American nation.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said on Thursday this country cannot be the solution to millions of Venezuelans fleeing their country due to economic hardship nor can this country be converted into a refugee camp. Venezuela has an estimated population of 33 million, 25 times Trinidad and Tobago’s population of 1.3 million.

He said the Government has a responsibility to protect the interest of citizens first.

“The policy is now where we are faced with an influx threatening to be overwhelming for us,” he admitted.

But Young’s admission that “no one will be turned away”, seemed to contradict

the PM’s statement.

Young said five registration centres had been initially proposed but noted the Government would only be able to manage three: one in Portof-Spain at the Queen’s Park Oval, a second at the Achievers Banquet Hall on Duncan Street, San Fernando and a third in at the Caroline building, Wilson Road in Scarborough.

He is counting on the network within the Venezuelan community in T&T to help get migrants to the registration centres, and he encouraged the use of a pre-registration process online.

“From a logistics point of view, from a security point of view and just being able to manage the registration centres, we could not go to with more than three,” Young said.

Young said the smaller number of registration points would not pose an additional financial burden on the people coming into the country.

“At the end of the day, my honest belief and in listening to immigration, and they are the ones who are dealing with persons on the ground for months now, people will make their way to where they need to be for registrations,” he said.

The minister emphasised that the registration process is mandatory for all Venezuelan nationals who fled their homeland.

“The consequence of not registering, so come June 15, what happens to persons who have not taken part in this registration process, we will revert back to the law and the enforcement of the law as it currently stands,” he said.

“Even if persons have gone through the registration process and then engage in criminal activity, as the Minister of National Security, I will deport you,” he said.

Each individual over the age of 16 would be granted a registration card and a unique number, allowing them to work legally in the country and emergency access to health care.

The registration process includes a biometric portion that will use the registrant’s fingerprints and photographs.

Officials from the Ministry of Health would also be present during that two-week process to ensure the health of the person registering.

At the end of the registration process, each person would be given a receipt for a registration card.

The card allows the holder to work in the country for one year. They must check in at the six-month mark for a comparison of records.

He said in the past few weeks, he signed some 10 deportation papers and would sign many more if Venezuelans commit any crimes in the country.

While he said that there would be no softening of the immigration policy at the country’s entry points, he admitted that the deportation policy would be ramped up only “after” the registration process.

“After, definitely. The deportation comes on the back end of conviction. Under the immigration law, however, there are other methodologies available,” he said.

Questions have been raised about the process especially as just under 100 Venezuelan nationals entered the country last week illegally and were detained by police. The group was then granted immunity until July.

This group, too, would be allowed to register. Young said the registration programme cost the Government $5 million so far.

“It is a fluid process,” he said, adding that the full cost would only be known after the programme is completed.

Young also said that the Eastern Detention Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre in Santa Rosa will be outfitted and used as an immigration detention centre.

While some of the new arrivals have been detained and later released by immigration authorities and ordered to report within 90 days, other have been taken to court, charged as much as $3,000 for being in the country illegally, and detained at the already overcrowded Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo.

The security agencies have been stretched trying to limit the number of new arrivals who are hiding out in forests along the coastline and abandoned buildings.

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