Can T&T afford to bear the costs of refugees and asylum seekers—providing them with housing, education and medical care—when there are 173,000 T&T citizens awaiting housing?
According to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, that’s the question that has to be examined with stakeholders on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers.
Replying to Opposition questions in Parliament yesterday, he said a draft bill that seeks to deal with asylum for foreign nationals has been prepared and Government is about to begin stakeholder talks on the issue.
“It’s a very complex matter with serious implications for the national budget and national security. Plus the availability of Government resources and services in Trinidad and Tobago for non-nationals must be carefully be factored and measured...this sits directly on the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the taxpayers,” he said.
“The people of Trinidad and Tobago will have to provide education, housing and medical treatment to refugees and asylum seekers. That’s something we have to consider as an important thing—the question of Trinidad and Tobago being ready—is whether we can afford it right now and it’s a significant issue when we have 173,000 people on the housing list currently”
The AG said his office had not received any formal complaint from any international government on Government’s interpretation of treaties on refugees. He said domestic law on this can only be developed after treaties are ratified and T&T had not ratified the two treaties it has acceded to on the issue.
He said Government had sought data on the number of those who may be seeking asylum and accommodation He noted general accommodation figures have dropped over the years from 80 a year to 20 a year.
“The issue that must be factored in for Trinidad and Tobago is how many people you will hold here, non-nationals, accessing state resources with priority for education, medicines, housing, in priority to your citizens while moving 20 people out over a year. That’s why it’s an extremely complicated issue as to what the country, the national community, is prepared to do in managing this.”
Al-Rawi said any swiftness to deal with the matter “sits on the back” of how many people enter the system, how long they stay here and how many leave. He noted that the United States has limited the numbers it accommodates. He said Government is in close touch with the UNHCR on the existing number of asylum seekers/refugees and anticipated numbers from other countries.