No Venezuelan refugee camp in Trinidad, says PM

Bert Wilkinson | 4/11/2019, 10:04 a.m.

Of the 15 nations in the Caribbean Community, Guyana and Trinidad are located the closest to crisis-ridden Venezuela and are both beginning to feel the brunt of the economic refugee migration problem.

Authorities in Trinidad have estimated the number of Venezuelans on the island at about 45,000 with daily arrivals, while Guyana—the nearest of the two to Venezuela—is counting its economic refugee tally at about 6,000.

As authorities in both countries say they try to both assist the refugees with settlement, schools and other basic services, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad has vehemently ruled out suggestions from western diplomats and the United Nations for his government to formally set up Venezuelan refugee camps on the oil and gas-rich island.

Fearful that the situation could spiral out of control if authorities do indeed undertake such a venture, the PM was adamant that everything will be done to make those who are already on the island comfortable and secure but formally building camp or tent cities for them is out of the question.

“We have some Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago. We embrace them as economic migrants. We have been approached by external forces, external agencies to open refugee camps in Trinidad for Venezuelans. I have flatly refused for two reasons ladies and gentlemen. Those are doors once you open them they are very difficult to close. We’re a country of 1.3 million and a little piece of land here. Venezuela has a quarter of continent and 33 million people we gonna open refugee camps in Trinidad and Tobago what is our position? And we must apologize for saying no to that?”

His remarks came as a United Nations report on the situation contends that the situation for the Venezuelans in Trinidad and other areas where they have settled is dire with many women being forced to turn to transactional sex for survival. Others have turned to full-scale prostitution in order to survive and send money back home to desperate family members. In Guyana, dozens have left the city for the gold-bearing interior to work as camp cooks and other assistants but officials fear they are eventually lured into prostitution by way of offers of large amounts of cash or gold from miners. Others who are bilingual have found jobs in shops and stores in the commercial district and appear to fear much better than those who cannot speak English.

“Partners have observed growing vulnerabilities, with an increase in the number of persons in situations of risk or acute need. In this context, the risk of gender-based violence is aggravated. To the extent that the vulnerabilities increase, refugees and migrants from Venezuela become more susceptible to turn to negative means of survival, such as sex for survival, in the case of many women, as well as child labor and other forms of exploitation,” said a joint U.N. Human Rights-International Organization for Migrants report.

On the other hand, Guyanese authorities have in fact been moving to assist Venezuelan refugees to set up homesteads or humanitarian centers in jungle communities where many have settled since crossing the border Wenamu and Cuyuni rivers in the past year. Eyebrows were raised recently when a boatload of 140 arrived in the capital city. Officials say they hope organized groups cashing in on their plight did not put them on city-bound vessels.