Julio Vega* arrived in Trinidad in December 2017 from Maturin, Venezuela.
He arrived, “through a place other than a port of entry,” according to sources. He also failed to present himself to an immigration officer.
For these offences, Vega and two of his countrymen, all of whom shared a small dwelling place, were rounded up by the Immigration Division late one February night, and ordered to produce proof of their status. His friends were lucky; they managed to produce documents that proved they were in the country awaiting the outcome of their claims for asylum.
Unfortunately for Vega, he could not, and so was carted off to the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre, in Santa Rosa. There he stayed until mid-March, until he was moved to the newly-refurbished Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo. Yesterday, Vega was one of 82 men and women deemed to be in TT illegally, and placed on a military plane sent by the Venezuelan government to be repatriated. But Vega should not have been on that plane. He had applied for, and been granted, an asylum-seeker certificate, sources said. Unfortunately for Vega, the certificate was processed and sent to him three days too late—after he had already been detained by the Immigration Division.
Government has insisted that these repatriations were in the planning stages for a long time, and most of the detainees, now deportees, were in the country illegally, and some have even served time.
Vega’s wife, Elena*, insists her husband was not a bad person. She spoke to Sunday Newsday yesterday via WhatsApp, recounting the tale of her husband, who left his family and his country, all in attempt to provide for the ones he loved.
“If he had his certificate seeking political asylum, he would not have been arrested. But he did not yet and so he was arrested,” Elena said.
Vega’s tale is similar to many Venezuelans risking life and freedom to cross the Columbus Channel into Trinidad where they hope to make a better life, or else, earn something to take back to their families, crippled by the critical food and medicine shortages in Venezuela.
“He wanted political asylum asking for Trinidadian support, to see if he could be allowed to work to support his family in Venezuela. But then everything went wrong,” Elena said.
She is unemployed, and work is hard to find, given the current economic situation. She is only glad that her son is now an adult, because “with children, the situation is more serious.”
Right now, though, her thoughts are with Vega. As she spoke with Sunday Newsday, she was also, in conversation with her husband, giving updates on his status.
“He’s being moved from the detention centre.”
“Now he and the others are being put in a van heading to the airport.”
“The plane has arrived at the airport.”
Sunday Newsday was told of similar stories from other sources.
Asked if she was afraid, Elena answered simply, “Yes.”
She is worried, she says, because she does not know what will happen to her husband. A lawyer, she said, told her that when he gets to Venezuela, it is most likely that he will be questioned by the Venezuelan Intelligence Service, Sebin.
“I am very sad. Depressed,” she said, adding that she suffers from “nerves” and the stress is complicating it. She is, however, grateful that she can talk about it.
A few hours later, Elena sends another message. “Excuse me, have you heard anything more?” Nothing since the plane left. A flight from Trinidad to Caracas, Venezuela is two hours. It’s been longer than that. Now she, she says, she is distressed. Then, she says resignedly, “It’s in God’s hands now.”
* Names have been changed
to protect identities