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Some of the Venezuelan migrants arrested on July 16 by TT Coast Guard sit outside the Cedros Security Complex.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Minister of National Security Stuart Young says he is disturbed by the number of locals involved in human trafficking rings between T&T and Venezuela.

In an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Young said all available assets including the 24-hour radar were being used to monitor the coasts.

This has resulted in the recent arrests of several boatloads of Venezuelan nationals and locals believed to have been hired to transport the Venezuelans to several locations inland.

A source disclosed that on July 16, a total of 46 Venezuelans was intercepted and detained by the Coast Guard and taken to the Cedros Security Complex.

A further 12 Venezuelan migrants were arrested at the Palo Seco Beach a day later during a sting operation while eight more were arrested in Siparia en route to a safe house on July 16.

In photographs obtained by Guardian Media, about a dozen of the nationals detained at the Cedros Security Complex were children, some less than two-years-old. The Venezuelan mothers sat on the concrete floor under a car park shed outside the Complex, hugging their children close while the men were separated and placed on another part of the complex.

Young said the Coast Guard has continued to do its best to protect T&T’s maritime borders.

“We are using all available assets, including the coastal radar system. There have been a number of successful interceptions of boats attempting to bring illegal immigrants into Trinidad within recent times. Some of these vessels are escorted back to Venezuela and some depending on the circumstances are escorted to Trinidad,” Young revealed.

He added, “What is disturbing is the number of Trinidadians involved in these human trafficking schemes.”

Asked what was being done to prevent the possible spread of diseases including COVID-19, Young said, “In keeping with the COVID 19 Health protocols, the illegal immigrants are quarantined before arrangements are made for their return to Venezuela.”

He added, “We have set up a special quarantine facility at the Heliport in Chaguaramas where they are quarantined and monitored until return to Venezuela.”

Young said he has asked the T&T Police Service to institute investigations and charges of the Trinidadian individuals who are involved and caught in these operations.

“The T&T Defence Force, TTPS and Immigration will continue to do their best to protect our borders,” Young added.

Meanwhile, councillor for Cedros Shankar Teelucksingh said migrants were entering T&T’s waters in the offtime when officers leave patrols to change shifts. He recommended that shifts be changed at sea.

Last Sunday, Guardian Media’s Joshua Seemungal exposed the findings of a 2019 Caricom Human Trafficking study which showed that corrupt law enforcement officers were involved in human trafficking between Venezuela and T&T.

A source told Guardian Media that some Venezuelans pay as much as US$2,000 to ensure safe travel from Venezuela to T&T. The monies are used to pay to corrupt officers from Venezuela’s military as well as local law enforcement personnel who have links with traffickers operating brothels. Many of the women brought in are forced to work as sex slaves and prostitutes, according to the Caricom report.

The report carried out by researcher Dr C Justine Pierre, and assisted by Nayrobis Rodriguez, gathered information from traffickers, smugglers, victims, law enforcement officers, as well as from anti-human trafficking organizations in more than 32 countries.

One Venezuelan trafficker indicated that through his connection with elements in the T&T Police Service, he has been assured of protection by officers who advise him where to enter the country.

He also claimed that the officers provide security for the safe-houses where the women are kept before they are transported to specific in trucks, cars, maxi-taxis, and vans.