UNHCR film explores journey of Venezuelan migrants

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this December 2022 file photo, a group of Venezuelan migrants wait outside the immigration office in Port of Spain for information on whether their work permits will be extended. – File photo/AYANNA KINSALE

The UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) screened the documentary Starting Over on Wednesday, shedding light on the experiences of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in TT.

The screening was held at Digicel IMAX, One Woodbrook Place, Damian Street, Port of Spain.

The film explores the lives of UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers who have been granted temporary work rights under the Migrant Legislation Framework, a regularisation initiative.

Head of UNHCR Miriam Aertker delivered opening remarks, emphasising that the film captures shared human experiences.

“From embarking on new careers to daily struggles, migrants’ lives are often filled with challenges. Hope lies in community opportunities and the chance to rebuild life.”

The film spotlights the pursuit of hope and delves into the difficulties refugees and migrants face in gaining legal rights and access.

Aertker highlighted the significant impact of allowing refugees to contribute meaningfully by using their skills and diversity, saying the ability to work is crucial for a better life, fostering community belonging and a sense of purpose.

She said UNHCR has collaborated with the government, civil society and international agencies to protect refugees’ rights and assist them in building a better future away from home.

Aertker acknowledged the Pan American Development Foundation as an implementing partner, aiding in supporting refugees and their host communities.

She said UNHCR and its partners have initiated projects to help refugees acquire the necessary skills for employment, including training in vocational skills and entrepreneurship. She stressed the belief that safe work empowers individuals to meet their basic needs, maintain their dignity and contribute to society, saying the documentary challenges citizens to collaborate with refugees and migrants, acknowledging their complex struggles and advocating for policy changes, justice and compassion.

During a panel discussion before the film, the filmmaker and director of Starting Over, from Birds Eye View Production, Rhonda Chan Soo, explained the importance of having conversations about migration, workers’ rights, and human rights. Chan Soo expressed her motivation to contribute to the discourse on workers’ rights and social justice through the film, emphasising that it addresses the challenges faced by migrants and refugees, often overlooked.

She acknowledged entrepreneurship as a crucial tool to empower migrants, allowing them to provide for themselves. However, she emphasised that entrepreneurship should not be positioned as the sole solution.

The panel discussion explored various aspects of the documentary, offering insights into the broader context of migration, worker’s rights and the resilience of individuals seeking hope and a better life.

The panel included former Miss Universe contestant and fashion designer Anya Ayoung Chee; owner of Tasty Tequenos Marianmer Gonzales, who was featured in the documentary; programme director at Pan American Hannah Katwaroo; and associate social affairs officer at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean Daniel Leon.