Goodbye my friends.
Nearly 700 Venezuelan nationals who sought refuge in Trinidad and Tobago to escape economic and political turmoil in their home country left the country on Saturday on a chartered ship to return home.
Most of the passengers were sick, unemployed, single mothers, pregnant women and children.
Some of the adults had taken advantage of the government’s proposed mid-2019 registration exercise that allowed 16,523 foreigners to live and work in the country.
But the government’s forced closure of restaurants, bars and other businesses to combat the spread of covid19 has left hundreds of Venezuelan nationals jobless, hungry and some even evicted from their rented apartments and yearned to return home.
Even though our borders were closed to refugees after the registration exercise, many Venezuelans have still disembarked in the past two years, arriving by canoes on deserted beaches across the country’s porous borders.
Those arrested were fined, jailed and others were promptly deported. At the end of the registration exercise, the government instituted a visa requirement for Venezuelans wishing to visit TT.
The vast majority of passengers said they had to return home due to various difficulties encountered in TT.
Passenger Jorge Arellan said he was leaving his 18-month-old child behind for treatment in Venezuela.
Venezuelan nationals are limited in the type of treatment they can receive at public health facilities.
“I worked when I was in good health, then I started to get sick from a stroke on my face and between the sun and the worries of not being able to work I had to go home. me in my family, ”he said.
Arellan and four of his relatives returned to Venezuela.
Another passenger, Alfredo Marín, said he decided to leave due to lack of employment during the pandemic and he could not pay his rent.
“In Venezuela, the economic and social situation is very difficult, but I will not pay rent and it is a relief,” he said.
Mariannis Gómez returned to Venezuela with her three children, aged 5, 8 and 9, as they were unable to receive an education in TT.
“We have been in Trinidad for two years and my children have only learned a few words of English from the Trinidadian neighbors, but not having the opportunity to study in schools here forces us to return home for their education.”
Many of those who left had the same concern: How they will find their country after leaving it to come to TT.
The round trip between the Port of Spain and the Port of Guanta in eastern Venezuela takes around 10 hours, so the ship is expected to dock around midnight on Saturday.
In February, the Venezuelan Embassy in TT organized a flight to bring 96 people home for free as part of the “Vuelta a la Patria” (Come Home) plan implemented by the Nicolás Maduro government in August 2020.
In 2019, Venezuela was plunged into crisis as its economy collapsed, leading to an uprising of political opposition in Maduro that questioned the legitimacy of the country’s leadership.
Millions of people have fled the country in search of food, work and a better life, and some have made their way to TT, just 11 kilometers from the Venezuelan mainland.
The exodus has been described by international aid agencies as the biggest migration in recent years, fueled by hyperinflation, violence, food and medicine shortages and political unrest.
Saturday’s repatriation trip, organized by the Embassy of Venezuela and the Government of Venezuela, was carried out via a passenger ship that left the cruise ship complex in Port of Spain after 1 p.m.
As early as 4:30 a.m., passengers started to arrive, 30 minutes before the 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew expired, but it wasn’t until four and a half hours later that the first group of people started to ascend. on board the ship.
Prime Minister Dr Rowley mentioned the repatriation mission during Saturday’s health briefing and said the trip was organized by the Venezuelan government and the passengers wanted to return home.
At the port, Foreign Affairs and Caricom Minister Dr Amery Browne and National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds were present.
Browne told media that the trip was organized as a result of joint work between Venezuelan authorities and TT.
“Today is a happy day because after many hours of organization, around 700 Venezuelan nationals can finally return to their country. Venezuela and TT are neighboring and very close countries throughout history and we are proud of this process to help Venezuelans return home, ”said Browne.
The exact number of Venezuelans who left has not been confirmed pending review of all identification documents.
“It is a precise exercise of great care and efficiency on the part of officials of the Venezuelan embassy and the immigration department,” said the minister.
The Ministry of National Security intends to examine the data provided by passengers and compare it with the data obtained during the registration exercise to determine how many people who left have been registered for a living and work at TT.
Browne said if any of the people wanted to return to TT, they had to get a visa.
Hinds said the exercise was the result of teamwork by police and officers from the Immigration Department.
Asked what will happen to other Venezuelans who are legally TT, Hinds said, “We recognize the current circumstances and we need to know the exact data of the registered Venezuelans who are still here and elsewhere. This was done at the beginning of this year, the re-registration for the renewal of expired cards. “
Venezuelan Ambassador to TT Carlos Amador Perez said the work has been “titanic” in recent days.
“We are proud and calm because there has been a great help from everyone, from the Trinidadian authorities to the passengers and the embassy work team.”
Perez said he is still unsure whether there will be an upcoming repatriation trip.
“Everything will depend on the demands of the same Venezuelans who are in TT.”