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Border security, migration and criminality
In a recently aired programme by the Islamic Broadcasting Network (IBN), the sensitive topic of border security, illegal migrants and criminality was vociferously debated. As part of the programme, the public was invited to share their opinions and comments.
During this segment, numerous members of the public began divulging information as to where foreign nationals from China, Guyana, Syria, Nigeria, Ghana and other South American and Caribbean countries were allegedly either working or residing illegally.
Now, given the fact that the country may be experiencing some harsh economic constraints, it is not unusual for migrant groups to be targeted as has been done in developed countries. Moreover, the assault intensifies when these foreign nationals, through sheer determination, drive, thrift and hard work, appear to prosper more than locals.
On the other hand, nothing is wrong with discussing the compelling issues of migration whether legal, illegal or forced. Citizens must have an outlet to express their concerns about what affects them and seek constructive assistance from their government if need be.
However, in this particular context with the lack of concrete evidence, such public ventilation on air may not have been the most appropriate way to address this matter. Furthermore, there is the issue of whether such persons possess valid visit visas, work permits, extensions and/or have pending cases with respect to applications for permanent residence or citizenship.
In addition, during the course of the programme, some unproven and disturbing comments were made concerning Steve Jack, head of the Investigations and Deportation Unit of the Immigration Department. The records will attest to the professionalism, maturity and display of this hard-working and conscientious individual, who is very dedicated and works under extreme pressure and severe constraints, without complaining.
Of grave concern have been reports of the arrest and detention of drug smugglers from Jamaica, Nigeria and former states of the Soviet Union. There is also concern over the number of people from Africa and the Middle East seeking asylum and refugee status. Considering the exorbitant cost of deportation of immigrants, the increased number of criminal deportees to Trinidad and human trafficking, there is no doubt that Trinidad and Tobago’s porous borders make us vulnerable to transnational organised crimes. However, we are in a position to wage a determined battle against this threat to national security.
While serious measures must be enforced with regards to criminal activities by some migrants, I must hastily add that those measures should not be the barometer for stigmatising the valuable contributions made by the vast majority of our migrant population.
Besides their capital, business and professional expertise, they bring cultural and tourism advantages, and use their expertise to develop our country. Some of these foreign skilled nationals include systems mechanical engineers, civil engineers, petroleum engineers, accountants, interpreters, teachers, nurses, doctors, specialist surgeons, pilots, economists, photographers, pharmacists and architects, university professors, to name but a few.
It is an established fact that Trinidad and Tobago has a magnetic attraction for international investors, foreign businesses and companies, as well as migrants in search of improved economic opportunities and a better way of life. Adding to that attraction is our strategic geographical location, our natural gas, petroleum and asphalt, a robust manufacturing sector, a unique cultural diversity, as well as a skilled and educated population.
Indeed, we cannot ignore the importance and relevance of migration to the country’s overall national development. It must be viewed against our population growth, our absorptive capacity and developmental needs. This brings to the fore questions about our immigration policy objectives, overall national security policies and strategy.
Past immigration experience suggests that our approach to migration tends to be reactionary and not proactive. There must be a long-term national strategic vision, designed to adequately address the problems of migration facing this twin-island republic. Border security, migration and criminality must be viewed within the larger dynamics of a well-designed immigration policy, taking into account the well-being of our domestic, regional and international interests.
A well-devised policy may lead to the effective management to improve the way the country manages, regulates and also facilitates migration. To effect such a policy there must be specialised immigration programmes that incorporate national security, international human rights, immigration law and procedures, administrative, constitutional and citizenship law, migration and refugee law, international conventions, criminal law, forensic examination and interviewing, border security and transnational organised crimes.
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