Thousands of Venezuelans who sought refuge in Trinidad and Tobago are now asking for help to return to their country soon.
Two official lists prepared by the Venezuela Embassy and La Casita de Arima, and another promoted through other networks are the result of entire families suffering the consequences of anti-covid19 restrictions.
The number of Venezuelans who want to return home could exceed 8,000, according to a rough estimate from various Venezuelan groups in TT.
In May 2019, just over 16, 500 Venezuelan nationals complied with a government registration process which allowed them to work and live here legally. There have also been several instances of boatloads of Venezuelan nationals arriving at secluded beaches since then which prompted stricter border patrols.
Venezuela's ambassador to TT Carlos Pérez told Newsday that up until Friday the embassy had handled 350 repatriation requests, made by phone or directly at the embassy in Port of Spain.
Pérez said the only list confirmed by the Venezuelan authorities is the one managed by the embassy for the repatriation trips organised by the governments of Venezuela and TT.
He said those who contact the embassy are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The difficulties the vast majority of Venezuelans in TT are facing, he said, are due to a lack of jobs.
The Venezuelan authorities are working on a return that could be by sea or by air.
“The most convenient routes are being evaluated and therefore the date has not yet been confirmed."Once the logistics have been worked out, he said, "We will go to the TT government for the corresponding permits."
The other list of requests for help in returning Venezuela is being handled by the NGO La Casita de Arima, through talks with officials from the National Security Ministry.
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on Saturday said he is aware that some Venezuelans want to return to their country but, as yet, no decision has been made about the matter.
At the moment, because of the current health restrictions which have shut many businesses until July 4, many Venezuelans are not working. As a result they have no income and are struggling to pay rent or even buy food.
Hinds told Sunday Newsday about two weeks ago he had a meeting with “persons who described themselves as spokespersons for the Venezuelans who are present” in TT and they had “a very useful exchange.”
“They told me there were those who, because the situation in Venezuela had improved for them, they were prepared to return as some had previously done. And I told them that we would have further discussions and arrangements around that.”
He said the number of people hoping to return to Venezuela was not brought up, neither was any report of any individual willing to provide them with transportation free of charge. However, he said both parties were satisfied with the meeting and discussions would continue, although a date for another meeting was not planned.
Hinds said other issues such as human trafficking and protection under the law were brought up at the meeting, and separately, Archbishop Jason Gordon spoke to him on issues affecting the Venezuelan community in TT, particularly the children.
He stressed that the matters were works in progress and that, as a public servant, his doors were open to anyone who wished to meet with him.
Andreina Briceño Brown, director of La Casita, confirmed to Newsday that many more people had been registered as wanting to go home.
Since mid-April, she said, hundreds of Venezuelans had begun to to ask for help from social organisations support refugees and through social networks to return home.
"In recent conversations with the Ministry of National Security, there were proposals for the repatriation of Venezuelans and the objective was to achieve an exit for the vast majority through legal boats, without deportation," said Briceño Brown.
She said the proposal is to promote a safe and dignified return of their own free will.
La Casita issued a statement on its networks on May 23, reporting the opening of an online listing for the possible return trip with the help of the Trinidadian authorities.
Briceño Brown said in just 16 hours it received 592 individual or family requests. In total, the database counted 1,215 people.
"The idea was to collect all the information requested by the Ministry of National Security digitally due to the closure of the borders, and it is the only institution guarantees the legality of the entire procedure," she said.
Although La Casita already has this database, many more Venezuelans are asking for another one to be started.
Briceño Brown said, “What we want is to advance in this group first and see what the repatriation procedure will be like, through what means, and the period of time in which the Trinidadian and Venezuelan authorities can manage these returns. Then we will already know how to work on the next listing.”
Another group has been registering people via its online networks and by phone, offering free repatriation trips to Venezuela from San Fernando and Chaguaramas.
Several people who were able to register said this group had a list of more than 6,000 people registered.
The Venezuelan ambassador dissociated the embassy from this procedure.
"That is unofficial information and therefore we do not speculate, so as not to generate more confusion,"
In Venezuela, several local media reported last week the governor of Delta Amacuro state, Lizeta Hernández, opened a service office in Tucupita so that the relatives of Venezuelans in TT can make their requests and look for mechanisms to help the return through the embassy here.
Ambassador Pérez confirmed this information.
The lack of work, the extension of restrictions and the state of emergency are driving Venezuelans in TT to return to their country.
Briceño Brown said a high percentage of Venezuelans who have asked for help to return to their country said they are unemployed and having difficulties in TT.
"There are many Venezuelans who are on the streets. They have no place to live, they have no food, some are sick and want to reunite with their families – reason enough to listen to them and help them return home," she said.
In recent weeks, a number of Venezuelan families reported through social media networks that they had been evicted from their homes because they could not pay the rent.
Hundreds of others have reportedly contacted NGOs asking for food.