PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, September 22, 2017 (CMC) – Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, has expressed disappointment at negative comments, following an invitation extended to displaced Dominicans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Rowley, who was a guest on the local television station, TV6, this morning, said he was disappointed with reports of some saying that his humanitarian gesture was a means of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) securing votes in upcoming elections.
However, the Prime Minister told the host of TV6’s morning edition, that he would not dignify that claim with a response.
Asked if he expected political backlash over his decision to ease immigration restrictions and allow Dominicans into the country, Rowley said: “No I don’t. It is my view, and I believe, genuinely, that the vast majority of people in T&T are decent and caring people. And from that standpoint, I don’t expect that that would cause any political calamity for me and the PNM.”
Rowley said the decision is a response to a specific natural disaster, for a specific period of time, and for Dominicans, “to return from whence they came”.
He, however, added, that under the United Nations charter, to which the twin-island republic is a signatory, if people arrive in the country without a place to stay, they would then become wards of the State.
“There is a United Nations charter, where we are signatories, and where such persons can be viewed as refugees, and you are duty-bound not to turn them back. They will become a ward of the State…if Dominican refugees come here, in any significant number, we in Trinidad and Tobago have the ability to deal with it, because it would be a situation we had not planned for before, the circumstances would require we put our best foot forward. But I don’t expect an overwhelming number of people to do that,” Rowley said.
During Thursday’s post cabinet press briefing, the Prime Minister said his administration would waive the immigration requirements for residents of Dominica, for a period of six months, as the CARICOM member state rebuilds.
He also said places could be made available in schools, across the twin island republic, for Dominican children to continue their education.
“In situations like these, whatever we have available to us, we, the people, have always been generous and are willing to share…..for the next six months, TT will open our doors, our homes, our pots, and I daresay, our schools, to the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica,” Rowley added.
He said those Dominicans taking up the offer must be able to clearly identify friends or family who will be able to accommodate them.
The Prime minister said arrangements will be made for any citizen who has accommodation and is willing to help provide shelter.
He stressed that Dominicans who choose to come to the country, will not be classified as refugees.