Venezuelan nationals who were delayed on Thursday in returning home via a plane sanctioned by the United States’ Government departed T&T just after 6 pm yesterday after a successful Government outreach to the US Embassy.
The Embassy agreed the humanitarian flight wouldn’t attract sanctions from the US, clearing the way for the aircraft to fly to T&T.
National Security Minister Stuart Young confirmed this in Parliament yesterday replying to queries from Opposition Member of Parliament Saddam Hosein on the issue.
Almost 100 Venezuelans had expected to leave T&T to return home on Thursday on a Conviasa aircraft arranged by the Venezuelan Government. Among those who were to return were people with terminal illnesses and disabilities, the elderly and children.
But the plane was not allowed by T&T authorities to land after it found to be a plane sanctioned by the US Government.
The group complained bitterly at the airport Thursday.
Both the National Security And Foreign Affairs Ministries assured they were working on the issue.
Yesterday Young said the Venezuelan Government had told T&T there were a number of nationals they wanted to repatriate themselves, without Government playing any role in this.
He said information on the flight came to the necessary agencies in T&T including Civil Aviation. But the latter division red-flagged the plane on Wednesday as one which was among aircraft sanctioned by the US Government.
As soon as that was brought to his attention, Young said T&T informed the Venezuelan authorities that this country wouldn’t be permitted to grant permission for the sanctioned aircraft to enter.
“But due to the nature of this mercy humanitarian exercise arranged by the Venezuelan Government to repatriate their nationals, I immediately reached out to the US Embassy in T&T and had a conversation,” he said.
He said he noted the circumstances, the humanitarian nature of the exercise, and sought their position regarding the sanctions on the plane which was on the US’ sanction list.
T&T asked if the US would permit the mercy and humanitarian exercise.
The ministries of Foreign Affairs and Caricom Affairs and National Security were able to secure written word from the US that this particular exercise wouldn’t attract sanctions and the US took the position the exercise could occur.
Young said he signed the approval yesterday for the 6 pm flight to take the Venezuelans home on the plane.
Immigration officers contract COVID-19
On another query, Young confirmed that ten more Immigration officers have contracted COVID-19 and another 39 from the same shift as the 10 are quarantined.
This is the second set of Immigration officers after it was reported on Monday that three officers got the virus and 20 were quarantined.
Young assured there was no shortage of Immigration officers at the Piarco airport. He said the airport doesn’t have the high traffic it had pre-COVID.
While there is usually 90 Immigration officers on shifts, out of that number there are currently 51 officers working five shifts in batches of 10 per shift.
“I’m told this is sufficient,” he added.
There won’t be any rotation of officers from March 1 as was usual due to the recent virus.
Young detailed that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) assigned to officers from gloves and masks to sanitisers and spray disinfectant for areas plus sanitising of Immigration sections by the Airports Authority of T&T.