One hundred and one Venezuelans were found at Santa Flora late last week. The group of women, men and children were found at a makeshift camp after arriving on different boats. The story the tired, hungry and quite illegal Venezuelans told Newsday is a remarkable narrative of their survival in the forests of Palo Seco, living off fish they caught and mangoes, getting by on supplies brought to them by other Venezuelans and getting bitten by bugs day and night.
All of them arrived from Tucupita, one of the closest points in Venezuela to the south Trinidad coastline. Kim Quashie, personal secretary to the chairman of the Siparia Regional Corporation, told of seeing a man choosing women to spend the night with him. “They are not grapes or apples,” Quashie thundered, “they are humans!”
It’s a point that’s getting a little lost amid concerns about cheap labour, spicy senoritas and Hispanic crime lords. It is the grim reality for many of these desperate migrants, braving treacherous waters that have killed their fellow citizens, landing in a strange country that doesn’t speak their language and risking being sent back to their homeland. So they board vessels that often aren’t built for the open sea crossing with the little suitcases and bags that are all they can carry, because it’s the only sensible choice that’s left.
Minister of National Security Stuart Young has announced that border security exercises are ongoing, but clearly they are not going well nor are they particularly effective. On Friday, Opposition MP Rodney Charles called for the resignation of Young, describing the Government’s performance in the matter as hallmarked by “cluelessness and ineptitude.”
Beyond the growing concerns about Venezuelan criminals infiltrating the country is the simple fact that Venezuelans here are positioning themselves to assist their countrymen in successfully making the journey from the mainland to the southwestern coast of Trinidad.
At Thursday's post-Cabinet briefing, the Prime Minister raised the spectre of a Trinidad and Tobago overrun by millions of fleeing Venezuelans. While such concerns will inevitably be a part of long-term planning to manage an issue of growing concern, the focus must remain on effective border control, not least to ensure the safety of desperate migrants.
Our desperate visitors, illegal or not, should meet a formal migrant policy that clearly articulates terms and conditions for their planned stay. The registration exercise due to begin this week is a step in the right direction to ensure this. There can be no question about the desperation of those Venezuelan citizens coming to our shores.
TT must ensure that the cordial relationship between our nations is reflected in a measured extension of our hospitality that serves both this country and those who have turned to it in their time of need.