The Caribbean is fast emerging as an attractive haven for refugees and the region cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the worldwide problem, an official of United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) has warned. The revelation and caution came from UNHCR Protection Officer Ruben Barbados, as he addressed a workshop for media professionals on Refugee Protection in Trinidad and Tobago yesterday.
Statistics show that there was a 257 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers in the region between mid-2015 and mid-2016.
Barbado said Belize, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago were the top three countries in the region for refugees to seek haven. And those refugees came from other Caribbean nations – Cuba and Haiti – as well as further afield – Bangladesh, Colombia, Venezuela, Asia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East.
Figures revealed that the number of refugees in the Caribbean have steadily increased from 770 in 2014, to 837 in the following year, to 976 during the first half of 2016.
“So the reality is that many people are coming here seeking asylum….It cannot be compared with worldwide, but for countries with limited resources, it is also a concern and a challenge, but also an opportunity, because these refugees are also coming with a skill,” he said. “You have doctors, you have entrepreneurs, you have teachers, you have farmers and, in that regard, they can help the economy.”
Newsday reported that during the workshop, three groups of refugees told their stories: A Venezuelan family that fled their country due to political persecution, a Pakistani group that left because of religious persecution, and a Colombian group.
They spoke of their difficulties dealing with the police and immigration, and the issue of a lack of legislation to deal with refugees and most arrangements being on an ad hoc basis was raised repeatedly.