Baby milk, food, water for Venezuelans in San Fernando

Baby milk, food and water are being provided to Venezuelans who flock weekly to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in San  Fernando.

The Venezuelans were seen standing outside the parish office, some with young children, while others sat on the stairs and walkways of the parish buildings, waiting to be interviewed.

Speaking to Guardian Media on Thursday, Episcopal and Parish priest Fr David Khan said the Venezuelans are not being charged a cent to register for aid, contrary to reports.

Khan said every Monday and Thursday, a needs assessment was done on the Venezuelans who came to the church looking for help.

"Part of the church's mission is to care for those who are less fortunate. At this point, we are creating a database of the Venezuelans and we plan to do a needs assessment of these people.  Since registration began we have had an average of 65 people coming here per day.

He said details of where they were staying, their living conditions and their specific needs are tabulated. Parishioners then visit them to offer assistance.

Asked how the relief efforts were being funded, Khan said, "This is being funded by the generosity of parishioners." He also said he was appalled by the exploitation of Venezuelans in T&T.

He denied allegations that some Venezuelans were being forced to pay money on the church compound in exchange for aid.

"The Venezuelans are not being charged. What I can speak about is what is happening in this compound and there is absolutely no fee or anything that is paid here.

If it is they are being charged, they should let me know about it and I will do a thorough investigation but there is absolutely no fee if people are saying that, I see it as obstructionist and injustice and not charitable to them (Venezuelans)," Khan said.

He said T&T was already facing limited job spaces. We have to see what job opportunities will open up (for Venezuelans after registration). Our duty as people is to respect one another if we are to build a nation.

He also said that a migrant and refugee toolkit was produced earlier this year so that church officials will be aware of the importance of upholding T&T's laws as it relates to migrants, who have fled socio-economic collapse in neighbouring Venezuela.

"The toolkit clearly indicates what help we can give and what we cannot give. We are guided by this documentation which all staff and those in the church Ministry must follow.

On Monday and Thursday, security guards chased the media from the church compound saying they had instructions not to allow the media into their private property. Khan later denied giving that instruction.

- by Radhica De Silva

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