"Ill-advised and precipitous."
People from across the country descended on the passport office in Port-of-Spain for “emergency” passports as the office opening hours returned to normal. The office had been closed for most of last month, as employees withheld their services at the Frederick Street building over health and safety issues. Government obtained an injunction on July 3 to prevent further action by employees of the Immigration Division, led by Public Services Association President Watson Duke.
Duke is before the Industrial Court over whether he breached the injunction preventing Immigration staff from stopping work. Keston Emptage, a Fyzabad resident, was one of several people who travelled from south and east Trinidad to Port-of-Spain with the hope of retrieving their passports for immediate travel.
“I kept calling for the past two months, because I had booked to go to the States since May. They kept telling me to call back and I kept calling. I have to catch my flight tonight, so they told me to come in today and I would retrieve it. “I was told that things aren’t back to normal but that they were making provisions for emergency situations,” As Emptage was being interviewed, his name was called by an Immigration officer and he went to collect his passport.
While some staff and supervisors refused to comment, one employee, who refused to give her name, said work at the office had “sort of” returned to normal. “We have been open up until 3 pm and if you look, you can see customers are being served,” she said. A line of about five people stood at the collections counter, and while some were turned away, or asked to return on another day, others appeared relieved as they walked away with their documents.
Over a dozen others sat in chairs, waiting for Immigration officers to begin the application interviews. “I’ve been waiting four months to get a passport for my one-year-old daughter,” said a woman from Manzanilla. “She needs the passport in order for me to open a bank account for her, but because of the shutdown I kept coming and being turned away. I was lucky, because when I walked in, I saw the supervisor and spoke to her and she said she would help.”
A St Ann’s resident, who needed her passport to travel to the United Kingdom to study, said she was relieved that she would be getting her passport. “For the last month, I would come and I would stand outside in a line waiting and hoping to get my passport. It was frustrating because I just needed to collect it. I leave next month, though, so I am just glad everything worked out.”