Guyana is a signatory to the international treaty on refugees making it obligatory to accept refugees. Because of such a treaty then, I am wondering if we erred when we charged fourteen Venezuelans for illegal entry, fined them and will have them deported. Were they refugees? We’ll get to Minister Joseph Harmon’s statement clarifying the situation later.
One of the Venezuelans is quoted as saying that he didn’t know he was not welcome to work in Guyana, because there are many Guyanese who travel unhindered to Venezuela where they find employment. Most Guyanese know that there is more than just a small number of Guyanese working in Venezuela to where they cross often to find work. But that is not the point.
Even if there were no Guyanese living illegally in Venezuela (God knows how many Guyanese are living illegally in Venezuela, French Guiana, Suriname, Barbados, Trinidad, Canada and the US) and even if there were no Guyanese actually living and working in Venezuela, this country has a moral duty to humanity to accept and protect human beings who are starved and hungry, and have come to Guyana to save themselves and their families.
The letter-writer avoided any condemnation of Magistrate Ann McLennan who assigned a fine of $10,000 each and ordered deportation. I am not aware of the specific law under which they were charged so I could ascertain if the Magistrate has scope to reprimand and discharge them.
I am going to leave out criticism of the Magistrate’s decision because I don’t have the facts. Enter Minister Harmon. His position is clear. If people enter Guyana illegally, the judicial process must be allowed to operate. Fair enough! Mr. Harmon went on to state, that the government will respond if there is a claim for help in a refugee situation.
My problem is how do we know if fleeing people who enter Guyana and cannot speak English didn’t make a claim for refugee status, but insensitive policemen refused to summon the relevant Ministry to take over and had them arrested for illegal entry?
I am not saying this happened in this case so I will end my discussion on the plight of the 14. My argument now centers on the possible situation of Venezuelans coming here to be rescued. This country must not arrest and charge starving people from other lands who come here to ask for food. You beg for food because you are hungry. The world knows about the hunger situation in Venezuela; it is in the news nightly.
There are two types of refugees that need help; people who are running away from civil war because they want to escape the ubiquity of violence and those in danger of losing their lives.
The other group is those whose countries are experiencing famine and food shortage. In these circumstances babies and small children are threatened. Other lands should never turn away starving mothers and their children who need food to sustain themselves.
Given the situation in Venezuela, we can expect some of them pouring over the border. We cannot and must not turn them back. We must ascertain if they asked for refugee status.
I can anticipate many Guyanese saying that once you encourage ten, twenty will come, then, forty will come. But what is wrong if they come and we can give them food to take back to Venezuela? Under no circumstances should we have them placed on remand in Brickdam and placed before the courts. I read that one of the women was crying in the court.
Do you know (I strongly believe it though I don’t have the figure) that per capita, this nation must have more churches (of all kinds of denominations) than any other county in the world. You travel around and you find that churches dot the entire landscape. Guyana should have been the most honest and ethical country in the entire world given the amount of churches we have.
A certain Magistrate on the West Coast of Demerara has his own church in my birth place – Wortmanville. I heard a man who is a big one at City Hall, and who is a devil, has his own church. A PPP leader, who said that if Jesus was to come down to Guyana he would vote for the PPP, once had a bottom house church way down in a yard on Joseph Pollydore Street in Lodge.
With this kind of religious saturation, one hopes that if Venezuelans seek refugee assistance they will be helped, including a sensitive heart from the coalition partners- PNC, AFC and WPA.
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