VENEZUELAN refugees in this country are calling on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to help them get the basic fundamental rights afforded to them.
At a news conference yesterday at the Mt Lambert home of activist Yesenia Gonzalez, a tearful Anyela Espinosa recalled the horror and anguish she has endured after seeking asylum in Trinidad – from being kidnapped, to being held at detention centres and prison, and not being able to contact her family.
Espinosa said she entered Trinidad legally on November 4, but was deported the very next day. She then decided to come illegally by boat, but the people who were waiting for her and other refugees betrayed them. The group was kidnapped and abused and there were even efforts to traffick them. The group was released and went to the police for help, but were arrested instead. Since then they have been in and out of jail or in detention centres. Espinosa and another refugee Carolina Gomez have been on the run since Thursday. She said all they wanted was to be treated like people with respect and dignity.
Anderson Nino has been here for three years under UNHCR and has a refugee certificate.
“People who are claiming refugee status have a right to feel free and have fundamental human rights,” he said. “Some people were locked up because they were considered immigrants. We are asking for opportunity. We are really disappointed because they are making us pay for everything when we have nothing. We are allowed to be in the country as refugees or as asylum seekers, and that is what we came here for. We are human beings and we have our rights also.”
Gonzalez called for all the detention centres to be closed and refugees to be either sent back to their country or sent to another country where they would be granted asylum. She said the detention centres were a violation of human rights. “After they are sent to the maximum security prison they are sentenced for three years, six months, three months, it is inconsistent. After they served their sentences they are sent to the detention centre where they are kept for months. The condition is so horrible inside there, they have no way to contact their families, they sleep on the soiled floor, some of them are diabetic with no medication.”
“They are not criminals, they are coming here because they are looking for refugee protection under the law. They are being harassed by the police who tell them their refugee cards are worthless. They accuse the women of being prostitutes, taking their jewelry. They wear the same clothes for days without bathing,” she said.
Yusmil Larez has been here since 2016 and was given a refugee certificate in 2017. She fled Venezuela as a political refugee fearing persecution by government, hoping things would be better, but she said it only got worse.
“The legislation has us living in limbo where we don’t know where to go, we don’t know what our future holds. I have three children and I don’t know what the future holds for them. My daughter goes to school but is not registered with the Education Ministry.
“What is life going to be like for her? That is it for her? She will have the same fate I have? All we want as refugees is just to have a life like you, like everybody else and we are calling on the UNHCR to please help us to get out of here.”