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Flashback 2019: Venezuelan registration at the Queen’s Park Oval.

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Xenophobia, unemployment, and exploitation have forced some of the migrants who sought refuge in T&T to return to Venezuela.

That is the view of experts on the migrant situation, including Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of International Relations, University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Anthony Gonsalves who said many of them simply got on a boat and returned home because of the difficulties they encountered here.

“A lot of them lost their jobs here. Remember, many businesses closed such as the retail sector and bars, so those Venezuelans have left on boats and have gone back. It’s just half an hour down the main,” he said

Minister of National Security Stuart Young extended the Venezuelan re-registration process to last Friday, giving migrants six additional working days to drop off completed forms. The preliminary count of Venezuelans who had applied for re-registration as of March 26 was approximately 13,800. Two years ago, 16,000 Venezuelans registered to temporarily live and work in T&T.

Gonsalves said the fate of Venezuelans in T&T depends on the political and economic situation in Venezuela.

“If the Venezuelan economy tumbles, there could be another major flow to Trinidad and Tobago, then we would be in serious trouble,” he said.

He said President of the United States Joe Biden has taken a less hardline approach to migration than his predecessor Donald Trump and it is possible that secret negotiations might be taking place with the Maduro regime.

“If you look at what Biden is doing, he is not changing the Trump thing officially but at the same time, he is not implementing it. Biden is not doing anything to stop the tankers going to Venezuela and Maduro has started to implement changes such as opening up the country to foreign investment,” Gonsalves said.

Harsh conditions in T&T

Angie Ramnarine, who heads La Romaine’s Migrant Centre, agrees with the view that fewer Venezuelans are registering this time around because they have returned home.

“They have returned to Venezuela for a number of reasons, including to use it as a gateway to other Latin American countries. Remember, Colombia made over 1 million persons legal for ten years. Other Latin American countries are making it more attractive for Venezuelans. In other countries, the process for Venezuelans is quicker and not as painful and dehumanising as it is here. Other Latin American countries are stepping up to the plate in trying to accommodate Venezuelans,” she said.

She said many of the migrants that sought refuge in T&T are highly skilled and educated and other Latin American countries are making use of their skills. However, she believes T&T’s authorities have adopted a different stance.

“They have criminalised all refugees. Even if you are registering some of them, what were the short term, medium, and long term plan for registering them? Are we going to be indefinitely extending their stay here?” Ramnarine asked.

She added that local authorities are looking at Venezuelan migration through the lens of human trafficking.

“Yes, human trafficking is big business but there are families genuinely looking for a better way of life.”

Venezuelan activist Sofia Figuera commented: “There are a number of reasons why some left. Some found the opportunity to either be relocated through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others left for the US, Canada, Australia, and/or Europe.

“Others returned home due to the lack of opportunities locally due to COVID-19, others left disappointed at the xenophobia and murders,” she said.

“Unfortunately the xenophobia will not go away any time soon, as we are only registering those that were already registered. As I’ve always said and will repeat, as long as there is a Communist President in Venezuela that enriches himself and his cronies while the rest of the Venezuelan nation has to fight for food, medications, water, electricity, and overall security, there will continue to be migrants/ refugees, not only fleeing into Trinidad but to neighbouring countries.”

Figuera concluded: “The fact of the matter remains that we will move into the future with 13,000 and more registered migrants and a number of them will remain illegal and unregistered. Some of these men and women are parents to Trinidadian children. The process needs to be more stringent, especially the background checks.”