Hundreds of Venezuelans turn up on first day of registration
The registration process for Venezuelan nationals seeking to remain in Trinidad and Tobago for one year was launched on Friday across the twin-island republic.
The Government made this possible through an amnesty which provides all Venezuelan nationals with the option to be registered and receive an identification card that would allow them to work and receive basic medical health care.
(Video: Venezuelans at the Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain, commented on their experience. There were reports of confusion at the San Fernando registration office as Venezuelan applicants were given hardcopy forms in English - as a result many of them were unable to understand and complete the forms. The forms are available in Spanish online at https://venezuelanmigrantregistration.gov.tt/)
On Thursday night, scores of Venezuelans lined up outside the Queens Park Oval in Port-of-Spain and the Achiever's Banquet Hall in San Fernando.
Commissioner Griffith said as of 7:15 am on Friday, 300 Venezuelan migrants showed up for registration in Port-of-Spain, 250 in San Fernando and eight at the Caroline Building in Scarborough. The Top Cop expressed satisfaction that this process will assist police in clamping down on crime.
"It would assist the law enforcement agencies because we can now have a database, we can know individuals, see where they are, as the [Acting National Security] Minister rightly said. This can assist in reducing many criminal activities in this country that may have taken place because these persons were not registered such as human trafficking, sexual exploitation, prostitution, illegal immigration and illegal immigration has proven to be a conduit that also allows illegal weapons and drugs entering the country."
Griffith also assured that this is not a free for all as people can be refused entry or face deportation.
"Persons can be denied entry or be returned to their home country if a) they are deemed as a threat to national security or b) a liability to the public purse. This here has proven to be a window of opportunity for those individuals who wish to do so, those who do not or those who do not adhere to the obligation of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, well then we will operate in that manner."
Meanwhile, acting National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds sought to allay fears that this process may not be the right decision for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. He said this move was as a result of empathy for the crisis plaguing Venezuela as a result of economic blockades and sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.
"In the spirit of compassion we understand that in the absence of them coming forward and being recognised by the government and being given the protection of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, they could be the subject of abuse and in some cases, out and out criminality in terms of smuggling, in terms of modern slavery, in terms of sexual abuse, in terms of underpayment by unscrupulous employers. So this process really eliminates for all of those Venezuelans, those horrific possibilities. It also allows Trinidad and Tobago to know, for the first time, precisely how many people are here and how we need to treat with them in the spirit of compassion."
Hinds says background checks will be conducted before identification cards are issued. However, he could not say how long that process would take.
"We do not import trouble for law enforcement and for the people of Trinidad and Tobago and as a consequence, background checks are obviously necessary. The cards will not be given, cannot be given, because background checks will have to be done. They cannot for that reason be given immediately upon registration but we give the assurance, the cards are now available, the physical cards that is, quite secure as opposed to the mockup that we saw some days ago that caused national alarm."
The Minister also had a message for law-abiding Venezuelan nationals.
"We want to remind the wonderful citizens of Venezuela who in some cases to no cause of their own, happen to be here with us, that you are welcome to be here having registered in the process, you can work for a year, you'll be entitled to basic medical care and all else that we can afford and we have promised in this process but we hope as most obviously, that you do not offend the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. If that happens, like any other citizen even of Trinidad and Tobago, Commissioner Gary Griffith will have to treat with the issues in accordance with the law."
The registration will take place from May 31st to June 14th 2019, inclusive of weekends but excluding the public holiday Eid-ul-Fitr on June 5th, 2019.