Trinidad Faces Humanitarian Crisis as More Venezuelans Come for Refuge

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[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] John Otis (NPR) reports on Venezuelan migration to the twin nation of Trinidad and Tobago:

[. . .] The deep economic crisis afflicting Venezuela has prompted 3.6 million Venezuelans to flee, most since 2015, according to the United Nations. That’s roughly 10 percent of the country’s population. Most have crossed into relatively large, neighboring countries like Brazil and Colombia. But some are landing on tiny Caribbean islandsjust off Venezuela’s coast, like Aruba, Curaçao and Trinidad.

Many Venezuelans enter Trinidad legally as tourists, then overstay their permits. Those who lack passports pay boat captains to take them ashore under cover of night. All told, Trinidadian officials estimate as many as 60,000 Venezuelans have recently settled in Trinidad, which has a stable economy thanks to its oil, natural gas and petrochemicals industries.

That might not sound like a flood. But Trinidad is only slightly larger than Rhode Island and is home to just 1.3 million people. Proportionate to its population, Trinidad has received more Venezuelans than almost any other country.

“We are seeing a huge wave of Venezuelans coming,” says Michele Reis, a Trinidadian academic and an expert on migration. “We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.” As a result, Trinidad’s government is now adopting a harder line toward the newcomers. Reis points out that it has ignored petitions from about 10,000 Venezuelans who have applied for refugee status, which would allow them to stay here legally. In April, authorities forcibly deported 82 Venezuelans, many of whom were seeking asylum.

Trinidad signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is the basis for international refugee law. But the U.N. high commissioner for refugees and human rights groups say the April expulsions were a serious breach of the convention.

Trinidad “must respect the fundamental human right to seek asylum and never return people to countries where their lives or freedom are at risk,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said last month.

Trinidad’s government did not respond to NPR’s requests for comment. But in an April news conference following the deportations, Prime Minister Keith Rowley staunchly defended his policy. “We are not in China. We are not Russia. We are not America,” he said. “We are a little island — limited space — and therefore we cannot and will not allow the U.N. spokespersons to convert us into a refugee camp.”

Opposition lawmaker Rodney Charles points out that Trinidad is a close ally of Venezuela’s authoritarian regime and, in August, inked a natural gas supply deal with its much larger neighbor. He says Trinidadian officials fear that granting refugee status to Venezuelans would anger Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Trinidad’s “message for Maduro is that we support him,” Charles says.

Despite the official cold shoulder, Venezuelans keep coming. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677325140/trinidad-faces-humanitarian-crisis-as-more-venezuelans-come-for-refuge

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