Finally 96 Venezuelans who were refugees in TT returned to their country on Friday on a repatriation flight.
At 7.30 pm yesterday, the flight, put on by the Venezuelan state airline Conviasa, took off from the Piarco International Airport after getting permission to land in Trinidad.
Finally, 82 adults and 14 children returned to Venezuela, most selected by officials from the Venezuelan Embassy in TT on the basis of need.
The repatriation flight was organised by the Venezuelan government and should have left on Thursday afternoon to fly to Caracas, but the TT government denied the Conviasa plane permission to land.
A release from the Ministry of National Security on Thursday said permission for the Venezuelan aircraft to land in TT had been denied as the airline had been sanctioned by the United States.
The release said, "The Ministry of National Security has reached out to the US Embassy in Port of Spain to seek guidance and will work with the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs, with respect to the possibility of a future repatriation exercise by the Venezuelan Government."
The US Embassy, in its own release later on Thursday, said it was willing to assist in the repatriation.
It said it would "work closely with the ministry to provide any necessary information to facilitate the safe and lawful repatriation of Venezuelans."
On Friday morning, the Venezuelan Embassy said the flight had received the relevant authorisation from TT.
Officials from the embassy then called the approved passengers to inform them of the development.
Some of the passengers had already returned to the airport with their family and friends to await news of the rescheduling of the trip.
Twenty others, including a pregnant woman and three children registered for the trip, had slept at the airport on Thursday night hoping the flight would be rescheduled.
The group was given empanadas for dinner by staff from the Venezuelan Embassy.
"We slept in the chairs in the counter area and the airport security guards were attentive to us," said Carlos Benitez, one of the travellers.
At around 3 pm on Friday, workers from the Swissport company – hired by the Venezuelans to check in luggage and board passengers – began checking in the 96 people registered for the flight.
An hour later, the Conviasa plane from Venezuela landed at Piarco.
Eduardo Ávila and his wife Celia de Ávila, who were here with their children and grandchildren, told Newsday they still had a long way to go after arriving in Caracas, but they were happy.
Celia said, "We are calm. We already saw the plane land and, although we know it will take several hours to get to our house, we already know that we are going back."
Venezuelan embassy staff said the cost of the flight was being covered by its government and therefore free to passengers. Airport departure taxes were also waived. Passengers were, however, required to pay for a covid19 PCR test before qualifying for the flight.
"This is the first repatriation flight from TT, a door opens for future air or sea travel. We hope to continue counting on the support of the authorities because there are still many Venezuelans who want to return home."