Shipping company plans to take 6,500 migrants home

A Venezuelan family making their way to shore after disembarking  a pirogue at Los Iros beach in November last year. - Lincoln Holder
A Venezuelan family making their way to shore after disembarking a pirogue at Los Iros beach in November last year. - Lincoln Holder

The Trinidadian shipping company Puerto Caribe is waiting for official permits from the TT and Venezuelan authorities to help in the repatriation of 6,500 Venezuelans.

Sheliza Sebastiani, owner of Puerto Caribe, which is based in Chaguaramas, told Sunday Newsday her goal is to try to help refugees who are in a precarious situation due to the covid19restrictions.

Sebastiani has great affection for Venezuela: “I lived for more than ten years in Caracas. I am a woman, a mother and above all a human being and seeing this situation of Venezuelans here has made me understand I must help them."

Sebatiani and her team decided to join forces to help Venezuelans return home.

"Venezuelans in TT are in a very difficult situation at the moment. I know many refugees and they write to me asking for help with food and to pay the rent. That is painful for me."

A post in a Facebook group of Venezuelans in TT was the start of a repatriation aid plan.

She posted in the group asking who wanted to go to Venezuela, "and within a few hours I had hundreds of comments. As a result, I sent our phone numbers so that people interested in going to Venezuela could write to me and thus start making a list.”

As of Friday, 6,567 Venezuelans had registered.

She said she called the Venezuelan embassy in TT and the Ministry of National Security and has written to the authorities in Caracas asking for support to repatriate the Venezuelans.

"We are doing everything legally, and therefore we need authorisations to leave Trinidad and to enter Venezuela,"

Sebatiani said officials from the Ministry of National Security spoke with her this week to try to help.

"They are asking me for the full list of people, and we are transcribing it digitally to deliver it as soon as possible," she said.

Puerto Caribe is a shipping delivery company between TT and Venezuela, created a year and a half ago. It has already organised the lists and the boats to start the trip sand is only awaiting authorisation.

“We have the Doña Betty and Cargo Express ships, with capacity for 85 and 40 people respectively,” she said.

Sebatiani explained the objective is to send people for free, since they are unemployed. However, each passenger must pay US$50 to covered the logistical costs.

“We are trying to get other shipping companies to join, but they don't want to do it for free, so we continue to advance alone,” Sebastiani said.

Owner of the Puerto Caribe shipping company Sheliza Del Coromoto Sebastiani at her Chaguaramas office last Thursday. - Marvin Hamilton

“We have already sent all the documents. When the authorities approve the permits, the two ships will come to Trinidad to pick up the selected passengers for each trip.”

The trips will take approximately 120 people each and the priority passengers are pregnant women, single mothers and older adults.

Puerto Caribe aims to make two weekly repatriation trips directly to the city of Guiria.

"We have two buses already ready to transfer people from Port of Spain to the port of Chaguaramas. All these procedures are free," said Sebastiani.

She cannot give exact dates for the start of the trips because they do not depend on her but on the authorities.

"If the governments of Venezuela and TT give me the permits today, tomorrow we will start the trips, but I do not have that confirmation."

Last week Venezuelan ambassador Carlos Pérez confirmed to Newsday the embassy has a list of 350 people registered for a possible repatriation trip, but he could not give information about other lists.

Andreina Briceno Brown, director of the NGO La Casita de Arima, also said she is handling 1,200 requests from Venezuelans asking for help to return home.

IN all, then, it seems more than 8,000 Venezuelans want to go home. In May 2019, a total of 16,523 Venezuelan migrants registered in TT allowing them special permits to work but the pandemic has left thousands without jobs as bars and restaurants where they worked were ordered shut.

Many of them are facing eviction and are without food.

In Venezuela, governor of Delta Amacuro state Lizeta Hernandez said on Wednesday in a radio programme she is also doing the paperwork to help Venezuelans in TT to return.

"We decided to open an office in the state attorney's office building to do a census with the relatives of Venezuelans who are in TT, to know the reality of each migrant in that country," she said.

After compiling this information, "We will make the necessary contacts with the Venezuelan embassy in Trinidad and with the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry to try to help them return home."

Hernández said she does not have a boat ready for this repatriation because she must wait for the legal procedures to be completed.

"These Venezuelans are in another country that has its laws, and we respect that by complying with the necessary mechanisms to make the aid bridge."

Hernández urged Venezuelans to stay in their country despite its economic difficulties.

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"Shipping company plans to take 6,500 migrants home"

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