A Dominican refugee living in Trinidad and Tobago says he and many other refugees are struggling to survive in the pandemic.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Agung Marcelle said his refugee status does not allow him to legally work in Trinidad and Tobago.
He said he has reached out to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seeking assistance to pay his rent and buy food but he has been turned away empty-handed.
Marcelle has been living in T&T for the past five years and said he was granted refugee status earlier this year. He revealed his reason for fleeing Dominica but requested that it not be revealed. Marcelle said it may be decades before he can safely return to the land of his birth.
He said he usually survives by doing odd jobs like house painting and yard work. But with the latest Public Health Regulations barring most economic activity that is deemed non-essential, Marcelle said his revenue stream has dried up.
He is also not eligible for any support from the State.
“We do not have rights to work, so basically we have to hustle, get little jobs here and there, now that we are in a pandemic, because we are not allowed to work and we do not get National Insurance, we have to pay rent, we have to buy food, those with children have to support their children, how are we going to do that? Because UN cannot support us and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago is not giving us any aid,” he said.
Marcelle said he knows several Venezuelan refugee families who have been evicted because they can no longer afford to pay their rent. He said he is fearful that soon, he will be in the same predicament.
He sent out an appeal to the Government to allow refugees the right to work so they can support themselves.
“Put something in place so we can establish ourselves, because when we do a little hustle, because the Government says we cannot work, where the money going? The money going back into the circle, because we have to buy food, we have to pay rent, everything we have to pay for, so no money is going back to our homeland, what is the sense of sending money back to our homeland when we cannot go back to our country? The money is being used right here in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Guardian Media reached out to the UNHCR for comment. The agency said there are over 20,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with them.
Of that number, 86 per cent are Venezuelans.
The UNHCR said it continues to provide support to those in need and in April, 759 refugees and asylum-seekers were given food support by its implementing partner, the Living Water Community.
But since the implementation of the latest Public Health Regulations, the UNHCR said requests for food have more than doubled.
The Agency said its efforts allowed 1,050 refugees and asylum seekers to access remote education services in April.
The agency also provided psychosocial support to refugees- including those who were survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking, it said.