Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago
Due to foreign investment in tourism and an abundance of oil and natural gas resources, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the top destinations for Caribbean refugees. As a result, Trinidad and Tobago is facing a multitude of challenges. The country’s borders are vulnerable and human traffickers are active as the country struggles with being the active transit point for North American and European migration. Discussed below are leading facts about refugees in Trinidad and Tobago and the challenges they face.


Top 10 Facts about Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago


  1. Available data suggests that one-third of Caribbean refugees reside in Trinidad and Tobago.
  2. Before 2012, Trinidad and Tobago would only receive around 20 to 30 refugees from different countries annually.
  3. In January 2013, there was an easing of restrictions with Cuba and a change in migration laws, giving people more freedom of migration and movement. This is when Trinidad and Tobago began receiving an influx of Cuban refugees.
  4. By 2014, Trinidad and Tobago received 100 refugees, and, by 2016, that more than doubled to 209 refugees.
  5. In response to the growing number of asylum-seekers, the government adopted an official refugee policy in June 2014 and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) established an office in January 2016.
  6. In 2016, about 50% of refugees in Trinidad and Tobago were from Syria, followed by Cuba with 36%.
  7. The UNHCR office in Trinidad and Tobago provides technical and capacity-building advice to authorities, supports the development of an effective asylum system that aligns with the government’s refugee policy, and provides direct assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers through and in coordination with its implementing partner Living Water Community.
  8. The adoption of specific legislation ensures that refugees enjoy all the rights given by the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, there are no current avenues for refugees to legally integrate into the country. This prevents them from positively contributing to the development and prosperity of the nation, including its ideas, culture and knowledge.
  9. In Trinidad and Tobago, more than 40% of the refugee population comes from outside the Americas.
  10. In 2017, the country expects to host more than 400 refugees from multiple countries.

These facts about refugees in Trinidad and Tobago provide awareness about their current situation. Trinidad and Tobago has gradually become a more popular destination for refugees as an active middle point between European and American migration.

Tucker Hallowell

Photo: Google

Known for its beautiful beaches, tropical weather and delicious foods, Trinidad and Tobago is a dual-island Caribbean nation and a favorite vacation destination. The vast majority of its citizens live in Trinidad. Even though tourism accounts for less than 1 percent of Trinidad and Tobago’s entire economic output, about half of Tobago’s 60,000 residents are employed in the industry. Due to tourism’s importance, the government is extremely concerned with water quality in Trinidad and Tobago.

  1. Trinidad and Tobago have had issues with water quality in the past. In 2012, a “black, poisonous liquid run-off” from the Guanapo Landfill was discovered to have been polluting nearby water sources for 30 years. In 2009, the tap water in Arima, a Trinidadian borough, was found to have a level of mercury 150 percent greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for inorganic chemicals.
  2. As of Feb. 17, Trinidad and Tobago’s Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) confirmed that the water it treats is safe to drink. The safe drinking water includes the water sources affected by the landfill mentioned above. Parliament established the WASA in 1965 to provide citizens throughout both islands with clean water.
  3. In 2015, improved water sources in Trinidad and Tobago were available to 95 percent of the population, a three percent increase from the 1990s.
  4. Another motivation for maintaining the water quality in Trinidad and Tobago is reverence for the ocean among the population. In a feature on this subject, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) technical adviser Neila Bobb Prescott told U.N. News about a number of local customs: After a child is born, they are taken to the beach to dip their feet in the saltwater to mark the occasion and “bring them to the age.” Prescott went on to say that people go to the ocean when they are having emotional and physical problems; some even drink a bit of saltwater to soothe an upset stomach.
  5. The WASA anticipates that the city of San Fernando’s population will rise to 111,600 by 2035. To accommodate this, it launched the San Fernando Wastewater Project. The goal is to construct a new wastewater treatment plant in the same place as the current one and replace all such plants currently operating within the project’s borders.

A year after construction began, contractor Triple ‘A’ Water Treatment Plant Limited said it had underpriced the project. To rectify this, the Inter-American Development Bank, which is already financing the project, agreed to provide the contractor with a $10 million second advance payment along with an attachment of terms and conditions.

While the water quality in Trinidad and Tobago has fluctuated, the citizens and government continue to do their best to keep it safe and clean.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr

The education system in Trinidad and Tobago is one of the government’s highest priorities, and the country has an outstanding reputation in this regard. As of 2015, the country had a literacy rate of 96.9 percent according to UNESCO statistics and has steadily grown since the early nineties.

Education in Trinidad and Tobago is free and compulsory but accessible from the preschool age of three which is considered non-mandatory. After the completion of secondary school, students are given the option of staying on for an additional two years of high school which can lead to an advanced proficiency certificate and entry into a tertiary institution.

University in Trinidad and Tobago is free at the undergraduate degree and only approved at the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the University of the Southern Caribbean. The government of Trinidad and Tobago also provides subsidies for some master’s programs making education in Trinidad and Tobago the best in the Caribbean.

In 2007, Trinidad and Tobago commenced a pilot study to focus on children with special needs outside of partnering with private preschools to develop four models that address childhood education.

Education in Trinidad and Tobago is considered one of the country’s greatest strengths and is very multi-faceted. Trinidad’s education sector stands out among emerging markets and ranks on the global competitiveness report. According to the OECD PISA score of Trinidad and Tobago, girls perform significantly better than boys statistically. A lot of students has also repeated a grade compared to other countries and economies also participating in PISA.

While education in Trinidad and Tobago has seen great improvement, particularly in curriculum design and strategic policy, the Ministry of Education and major stakeholders continue to be more innovative in their efforts to create a highly skilled, knowledgeable workforce.

Education is Trinidad and Tobago is considered one the most important development tools for the country.

Rochelle R. Dean

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago is a two-island nation located in the Caribbean, just north of Venezuela. The population there totals more than 1.3 million and has “one of the highest per-capita incomes in Latin America and the Caribbean.” As of 2016, about 100,000 people, or nearly eight percent of the population, were undernourished and nearly 30 percent were considered to be in poverty.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., hunger in Trinidad and Tobago has been on the decline since the protein supply has increased over the past 10 years.

Despite this improvement, there is still work to be done. The World Bank determined Trinidad and Tobago to be the most wasteful country in terms of food per capita. Local nonprofit Nourish TT is working to end hunger in Trinidad and Tobago by serving as a connection between organizations that feed hungry people and businesses that have food left over.

By taking food that would have otherwise gone to waste and giving it to those who need it most, Nourish TT seeks to end hunger in the area. It is effectively changing the amount of food wasted through retail into meals. More than 36,000 kilos of food and nearly 90,000 meals have been donated through the organization.

Food for the Poor is a U.S. organization that is working to alleviate hunger in Trinidad and Tobago. Working on the islands since the late ’80s, Food for the Poor focuses on feeding people who are hungry, building housing for those in poverty and providing other types of aid. Over the last 30 years, the organization has been working with orphanages and building houses in Trinidad and Tobago.

Poverty and hunger are two issues that go hand in hand. In Trinidad and Tobago, strides are being made to eradicate both.

Shannon Elder

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Tobago
Tobago is a luscious rainforest-covered island off the coast of Venezuela. It is part of the complete nation of Trinidad and Tobago, with Tobago being the smaller of the two islands. Trinidad and Tobago are considered wealthy nations, but about 20 percent of people living there are below the poverty line. Many do not even realize that there is poverty in Tobago.

The poverty in Tobago is a serious issue. Most of the poverty in the nation is situated in the urban communities of the island, according to the World Bank report on Trinidad and Tobago.

Despite the income made by the nation off of oil exports, people are living below the poverty line in Tobago at TT$1,230 per month, according to the national publication, the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian.

Those that were interviewed by the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian said that the TT$1,230 (USD$183) was what they spent on food each month. Therefore many citizens below the poverty line aren’t able to afford anything except for the basic necessities.

The good news about the nation is that the unemployment rate is only at four percent, according to the CIA World Factbook. But for many of those who are unemployed, drugs and criminal activity have been issues for the nation in past years.

The crime and drug violence throughout the years has put a damper on the tourism industry in the nation. The crime rates and the violence on tourists all loop back into one common issue: poverty in Tobago.

But there is work being done for the island nation to decrease poverty. Some of the strategies being used include promoting growth in non-oil sectors, improving labor conditions by reducing discrimination, improving education, supporting health reforms and helping programs meet the needs of the poor.

Hailey McLaughlin

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Trinidad and Tobago
Since 2014, Trinidad and Tobago has taken a special interest in improving human capital through the On-the-Job Training Global Initiative (OJT).

Human capital consists of the skills, knowledge, values and health of a population. An investment in human capital would, for example, come in the form of education benefits, medical care, job training or other ways that add value to a person. On a small scale, these intangible assets are everyday factors to singular individuals. On a large scale, the amount and quality of human capital can make dramatic changes to a country’s economic status for generations. This is especially seen in the increase of entrepreneurs.

The OJT Global Initiative, a partnership between the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) and Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training (MTEST), initially resulted in 21 individuals being selected to take part in the U.N.’s competitive internship. The program teaches a specially designed curriculum with the goal of creating global citizens.

Richard Blewitt, U.N. Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative for Trinidad and Tobago, described the importance of the program in an official statement released with its induction. He said, “As you are aware, today’s youth and adolescents are faced with many new and emerging challenges. To effectively respond to and address those challenges, the U.N. seeks to ensure our programming work encompasses; promotes and facilitates opportunities for employment, and entrepreneurship, political inclusion, citizenship, protection of rights, education and reproductive health, and advocacy, to name a few.”

The OJT Global Initiative was first announced in January of 2014 as a two-year initiative. However, since then, the MTEST has maintained the program by pairing up citizen trainees between the ages of 16-35 and employers in a variety of careers — including culinary, agriculture, environmental, finance, engineering and other industries. In addition to gaining valuable experience in their chosen fields, trainees also receive competitive stipends and opportunities to work with new technology and network with industry peers. The program benefits local businesses as well by offering them reimbursement of stipend rates, access to suitable candidates and the chance to practice corporate social responsibility.

The World Economic Forum publishes annual reports of the Human Capital Index (HCI) by country. From 2013 to 2016, Trinidad and Tobago went from ranking 76th in the world to 67th. Programs like the OJT Global Initiative and the MTEST’s strong focus on training, education and entrepreneurship could be a heavy contributor to this rise in HCI over just three years.

The most recent numbers, published by the UNDP in 2007, show that the rate of poverty in Trinidad and Tobago is 16.7% for a population of 1.3 million citizens. This published rate is above the 34% given in 1992. However, The Guardian attributes this reduction to the fact that squatters, students, taxi drivers and the homeless are not accounted for in the labor force. Another major contributing factor to this is expressed in the large wage gap between men and women — with women having an average income of TT$9,000 to a male’s average of TT$18,000. This is attributed to women holding a substantially higher portion of low-wage jobs. The hope of programs like the OJT Global Initiative is to facilitate opportunities for better employment and entrepreneurship, thus reducing problems like the gender wage gap.

Fighting poverty around the globe is a combination of factors. By developing and sustaining programs such as the OJT Global Initiative, countries strive to provide higher levels of education, training and experience for their citizens. Like this program, investments in human capital have the ability to provide a country with economic benefits for generations.

Tammy Hineline

Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Trinidad and Tobago
There was a total of 17 13-year-old girls who were legally married in Trinidad and Tobago in 2010. In fact, eight% of girls in Trinidad and Tobago are married before the age of 18.

Child marriage is a dire problem that exists across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities. Although there is great public opposition, at least 117 countries in the world allow it to happen, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Marriage Act of 1923, which states that the youngest legal age of marriage is 12 for girls and 14 for boys if there is parental consent, gives legality to child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago. The irony is that the Children Act, which was declared in 2015 and raised the age of sexual consent from 16 to 18, did not repeal the Marriage Act.

The country’s Muslim and Hindu communities, including some religious leaders, seem intent on holding onto child marriage laws. Back in May 2016, the leader of the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO), which represents the country’s diverse religious groups, declared that the government should not amend the Marriage Act because “age does not determine maturity.” The IRO also stated that it would vigorously fight government interference in the Muslim and Hindu Marriage Acts.

This declaration shed a necessary spotlight on the issue and raised the significant public pressure to repeal the law. The government stated that “the time has come for the age of marriage to be the same [as the age of sexual consent] to protect a child’s right to enjoy life.”

This is exactly what was done when the country’s attorney general, Faris Al-Rawi, presented the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill to the country’s senate. The bill ensures that the age of marriage is in line with the age of sexual consent and will hopefully pave the way to ending child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago.

The recent resurgence of the debate on child marriage by the United Nations System in Trinidad and Tobago (UNTT) and the support for all efforts to end this practice are the perfect platform to meet the intended goal.

The U.N. office recognizes that the marriage of a person under the age of 18 violates human rights and threatens the health and prospects of young persons, particularly girls. On a global scale, child marriage slows down the fight for gender equality.

With public opposition rising, the fight against child marriage is gaining strength. Hopefully, the world will see its end soon — at least in Trinidad and Tobago.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr