Schoolchildren happy to return, but migrants still await integration

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dana St Laurent drops off her son, Nikolai at the San Fernando Boys RC school at the start of the new school term. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

Many local students in San Fernando were happy to return to school on Monday, the beginning of the academic year 2023/2024, but noticeably absent were any Venezuelan migrants.

At San Fernando Boys’ RC School on Harris Promenade, parents and guardians dropped off their children, who smiled and greeted the security guard as they entered the school’s compound.

Kurlene Cross said her son Pele Jeffery was so happy to return to school that he got up early and dressed himself.

“He is excited to be here and in second year (infant’s department). Surprisingly, he woke up early today and put on his uniform all on his own. I did not even get to button his shirt,” Cross said.

Raymond Ramdhanie, was pleased with how easy it was for his six-year-old son, Jayden Ramdhanie, to move from vacation to school mode.

“He is cool with everything. He got up early and was ready for school,” Ramdhanie said.

Apart from parents and guardians, students from secondary school were seen escorting their siblings to primary schools like St Gabriel’s Girls’ RC.

The new term also saw a massive traffic pile-up in San Fernando and environs.

Naparima Girls High school student making her way to school at the start of the new school term. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

On the absence of migrants, the parish priest of St Benedict’s RC church in La Romaine, Msgr Christian Pereira, said the La Romaine Migrant Support Group (LARMS) was disappointed.

“We at LARMS are disappointed at the lack of consultation or engagement. They did not even make overtures,” Pereira told Newsday by phone.

“Four years, we started the safe space for the children, which was really a kind of learning environment with volunteers looking after nearly 70 children.

“It is what it is. LARMS will continue to do its best to care for the children of the migrants and their families.”

The NGO started in 2019, and Angie Ramnarine is the co-ordinator.

For the first time, the migrants were expected to be integrated into the primary school system on Monday. The Catholic Education Board (CEBM) has been working with migrant communities nationwide and was willing to accept the students.

Newsday learned that members of two of the largest migrant communities in the south, Penal and La Romaine, were looking forward to joining the public school system.

But a representative from the Penal district said members were still awaiting documentation from the Immigration Department on the way forward.

Students of the St Paul’s Anglican school on Harris street San Fernando making their way to school at the start of the new school term. – Photo by Lincoln Holder

In July, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne announced the possible integration, adding that the Government was working on it.

Registered Venezuelans were assessed for eligibility according to their competency in English. UWI staff did the assessments.

Education Minister Nyan Gadsby Dolly said the ministry was working with various stakeholders, such as CEBM and the National Security Ministry, to incorporate migrants into schools.