Conflicting statements are coming from the Keith Mitchell-led government St. George’s in the last few days regarding Grenada’s position on accommodating Venezuelan refugees.
At the weekly government press briefing on Tuesday, Economic Development Minister Oliver Joseph said Grenada’s security forces already have a plan in place to protect the country’s borders from refugees seeking to escape hardship and political violence in Venezuela.
His comments are in direct opposition to pronouncements made by Health Minister Nickolas Steele, one week earlier before another briefing.
Minister Steele had said then that Grenada’s borders are not closed “to our Venezuelan neighbours”.
He was responding to a question on whether Grenada had been in any official discussions about taking in Venezuelans fleeing the political unrest.
One week later Minister Joseph took an entirely different stance and made it quite clear that Grenada is protecting its borders from illegal entry by refugees affected by Venezuela’s political crisis.
“We have the Coastguard. There is a boat patrolling our shores. We are monitoring closely the events, because we have seen an increase of Venezuelans going to Trinidad,” he said.
The senior Cabinet minister also said Grenadian authorities have not seen any significant signs of Venezuelans trying to enter the island.
“We are coming up with plan, the security forces have a plan to deal with it in the event that happens”, he remarked.
Meanwhile, resident Venezuela Ambassador to Grenada, Jorge Guerrero Veloz has said his country does not have a refugee crisis and they have made no request to Grenada in that regard.
In addition, Steele’s “open borders” comment was criticised Tuesday by Attorney-at-law, Anslem Clouden, who said Grenada’s own economic crisis means “we cannot afford to take in refugees”.
During an interview, Clouden said, “Given the state of our economy, teachers cannot be paid (pension and gratuity), and a plentitude of other problems of an economic nature, I heard the minister(Steele) say that we are open to refugees coming in from Venezuela.
“Where are we going to put these people?”
Clouden said Grenada’s social structures, facilities and amenities are already “overworked and strained” and could not possibly withstand an upsurge of Venezuelans entering the country.
“Where are we going to house them when we need housing for our own people?” he quipped.
Clouden called Steele’s comments “a Buck Rogers statement”, referring to the maverick character of television fame.
“I see no political benefit emerging from them. We cannot afford to take in refugees here in Grenada at this stage of our economic crisis.
“If you can’t pay your teachers that goes a long way in spelling out the economic malaise we are in.
Venezuela has been facing great hardships, food shortages, power outages and clashes with paramilitary forces for several months now and many have been heading to neighbouring countries including Trinidad.
Last month, Trinidad announced that from May 31, Venezuelan nationals in that country, legal and illegal, would be able to register and work for a period of one year.