Clarke calls for TPS designation for Vincentians in La Soufrière volcano’s red zone

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (Fifth from left) and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (center) flanked by Vincentian relief officials and SVG New York Consul General Howie Prince during volcano relief drive on Saturday, April 17, 2021 at Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.
Photo by Nelson A. King

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke has called on the Joe Biden administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Vincentians in the red zone of the explosive La Soufrière volcano.

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the predominantly Caribbean ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn, first raised the issue on Saturday after visiting a volcano relief center, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, run by the Brooklyn-based SVG Relief Committee, Inc.

She then elaborated in an interview with Caribbean Life on Sunday, April 18, 2021.

“I am calling on the US State Department to immediately allocate an appropriate level of funding to support our neighbor’s rescue, recovery and rehabilitation, and I am calling on Secretary (of Homeland Security Alejandro) Mayorkas to designate TPS status for the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and neighboring islands that are located within the red zone,” said Clarke, who chairs both the US Congressional Caribbean Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce on Immigration.

Clarke — also a senior member of the US House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee, and a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security — noted that since April 9, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and neighboring islands, have been severely affected by the eruptions of La Soufrière volcano.

She said that more than 20,000 people have been evacuated from their homes since La Soufrière volcano began erupting, and that many of the displaced people are now living in less than 100 shelters “that do not have the means to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — an already emergent crisis in the region — through social distancing measures.”

The congresswoman said crops — including coconut, breadfruit, mango and soursop trees, plantain and banana crops, which comprise much of the island’s agricultural economy, outside of tourism — have been destroyed.

She said access to clean water has risen to priority one, as St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ main water supplies “have been contaminated.”

Vincentian relief officials, with Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, surround a barrel on Saturday at Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn.  Photo by Nelson A. King

Clarke also noted that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reported that the volcano’s eruption had left the entire population of St. Vincent, 110,000 people, “without clean drinking water or electricity.”

“With all of this in mind, I have written a letter to Secretary Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security urging him to assign Temporary Protected Status for St. Vincent, the Grenadines and neighboring island migrants within the red zone,” she said.

“These island-nations have direct ties with the United States, and many have familial ties within the Vincentian-American Diaspora community of my district that will prevent any temporary relocation from becoming a stress on our economy,” she added. “The US must comply with international legal obligations and allow all migrants access to the asylum system.

“As DHS (Department of Homeland Security) processes this request, I urge Secretary Mayorkas to consider the plight of our neighbors in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the neighboring islands, living through this extraordinary environmental disaster while facing a pandemic, the likes of which our global community has never seen,” Clarke continued.

TPS is a temporary status given to eligible nationals of designated countries present in the United States.

This status, afforded to residents from some countries affected by armed conflict, or natural disaster, allows persons to live and work in the United States for limited times.

Clarke said the US Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS if conditions in the country meet statutory requirements regarding ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters (including epidemics), or other extraordinary and temporary conditions in the country that temporarily prevent its nationals from returning safely.

“The Secretary of Homeland Security has the discretion to designate a country for TPS for periods of six to 18 months and can extend these periods if the country continues to meet the conditions for designation,” she said.

“The volcanic devastation of St Vincent and the Grenadines requires an urgent humanitarian response from our US government, and the anemic response of our State Department and affiliate USAID (United States Agency for International Development) causes me great concern,” she added. “This is a humanitarian crisis that has not been adequately addressed by the US State Department or any other international aid organization.”

In fact, Clarke said the United States has only allocated about US$100,000 to address this emergent crisis, and USAID has only allocated US$20,000.

“This funding is, simply put, a symbolic gesture and merely scratches the surface of the Vincentian people’s needs and does little to combat the catastrophic disaster that continues to unfold,” she lamented.

“It falls woefully short of our humanitarian capacity,” she added. “It does not, in any way, truly reflect what we as a nation are capable of; the magnitude of this crisis requires more. It requires focused, competent humanitarian assistance commensurate with the crisis faced by the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The World Bank has disbursed US$20 million to support the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ response to the crisis posed by the La Soufrière volcano eruption.

And the Office of United Nations Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean said on Friday that the UN has provided US$1 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to assist St. Vincent and the Grenadines in relief efforts amid the continuing eruptions of La Soufrière Volcano.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ New York Consul General Howie Prince welcomed Clarke’s call for TPS for Vincentians in the red zone, telling Caribbean Life that “Protected Status is a very serious consideration.

“If the US decides to give TPS, it would be accepted,” said Prince, who joined his compatriots on Saturday and Sunday in rolling up their sleeves in the massive relief drive at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center.

“They seem genuine in their outreach, and I hope that their advocacy bears fruit,” he added.