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Zuleidis Perez washes wares to prepare to cook lunch yesterday.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Fleeing starvation and strife in their homeland, Venezuelan families have set up a little community on the Icacos beachfront, surviving on handouts from locals.

The migrants live in plyboard shacks and cook communally on a single tabletop stove.

The shacks cannot accommodate everyone so when dusk falls, many of them string up hammocks on the trees along the beachfront and brave the biting cold at nights.

When Guardian Media visited the families on Wednesday, more than ten children were seen playing along the beachfront. Clothing was strung from outdoor lines and there appeared to be no toilets.

Using Google Translate, Alvaro Perez said they came to Trinidad by boat 11 months ago from Tucupita. Eighteen members of a family live in one shack and Perez said they work hard together to make ends meet.

Since COVID-19, many of them have not been working. Perez said he does construction jobs while the others do any odd jobs they could find in the fishing community.

Even though the shack was modest and did not have a proper roof or walls, the migrants kept everything clean and neat. The shelves were stacked with neatly folded clothing and a few toys.

Only one bed stood in the open-air single room, which served as a kitchen, living room and bedroom. Three children who could be no more than five years old played on a carpeted floor. All of them had runny noses and their tiny feet were covered in black dirt.

Fried fish sizzled in a frying pan on the stove while Perez stacked some chicken on a cooler filled with ice.

Icacos resident Aneer Ojeer who lives next door to the Venezuelan families said it was heart-wrenching to see them sleeping out in the cold at nights.

“They cannot do better for themselves. The children and women stay inside but the men sleep outside. They came here because they could not find any food to survive in Venezuela. They are seeing hard times here but they say it is better than what they have been going through in Venezuela,” he said.

He said the villagers supply the families with food.

“When we catch fish we bring it over and give them to cook. Some of them work with the fishermen and they try to do whatever is necessary to keep the children happy,” Ojeer said.

He explained that the migrants were decent, honest, hardworking people.

“I would love if some help could be given to them. They are good people. They really need some help,” he said.

Another resident Cindy Balchan said the Venezuelans were getting a lot of help with food.

“Every day people come and drop things off to them because word gets around about how they are living,” Balchan said.

She explained that the Venezuelans were thankful with the help they have received but said there were many others who were suffering even more than those on the beachfront.

Councillor for the area Shankar Teelucksingh said it was no secret that some Venezuelans were developing squatting communities on private lands, private coconut estates and on the beachfront.

“They are struggling to find food. They have no basic hygiene amenities, no toilets and they have no basic food and water supplies,” he said.

Since COVID-19, Teelcuksingh said many Venezuelan families were facing even worse conditions than they experienced in Venezuela.

He said the migrants were working on the coconut estates and were doing anything possible to survive.

“They are getting food and hampers but they need some employment or some assistance so they could be treated as decent human beings. These migrants have to stoop at the lowest level to provide a meal for their families.

“In Biljah Road, residents have to pool resources together to assist these families because the Ministry of Social Development has failed to assist them in any form.

He said there were over 40 Venezuelan children in the Icacos community who needed assistance with schooling.

Over 16,000 migrants were officially registered by the Ministry of National Security during the amnesty period but Teelucksingh said thousands more have entered the country since then and were struggling to survive.