Returned to the sea by Trinidad and Tobago: the nightmare of 16 Venezuelan children separated from their parents and adrift | International

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Venezuelan migrants arrive by boat at Los Iros Beach, in Trinidad and Tobago, on November 24.LINCOLN HOLDER / COURTESY NEWSDAY / Reuters

On Sunday, Trinidad and Tobago authorities boarded 29 Venezuelans detained off the coast of Chatham Beach on two rafts and deported them to Venezuela. Among them were 16 children, one four months old, without their parents. His relatives spent almost two days without knowing his whereabouts, until they arrived in Venezuela, on an islet in a stream of the Orinoco on the coast of Delta Amacuro, in the east of the country. Hours later, amid increasing pressure from public opinion, by an order of the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago, which had been issued before the deportation, they were shipped back to the archipelago, where their relatives had stayed. They traveled in the same rafts and arrived on Tuesday. However, they are still waiting to know what legal situation they will be in.

The back and forth limbo in which these migrants are has raised a wave of indignation and unease over the mistreatment of Venezuelans, who in recent years have starred in the most important migration movement in the region, expelled by the serious political crisis economic and social and the humanitarian emergency that is experienced in the South American country under the regime of Nicolás Maduro. More than five million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years, according to the United Nations.

These migrants had touched the beaches of the south of the island of Trinidad on November 17, when they were detained by the Trinidadian police. The lawyers who assisted them had introduced a habeas corpus to avoid deportation. However, shortly before the hearing, they were expelled, reported opposition member David Smolansky, commissioner of the Organization of American States (OAS) for the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis. According to the information it has collected, the majority of the parents of minors legally reside in Trinidad. The children have traveled with the goal of finally reuniting with their families.

In a video broadcast on social networks, Eliecer Torres identified himself as the representative of the relatives of the 16 children and nine other women who were deported. He assured that they do not know the reasons why they were returned to Venezuela. "The boats in which they were sent had no number or registration, nor do we know who the captain is," said the man, adding that they set sail despite bad weather. With a totally gray sky covered in clouds, they returned in boats without life jackets or greater protection for the journey.

The alert on the situation of these children has been sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which on Monday urged the Trinidadian government to "guarantee the entry into the territory of Venezuelans seeking international protection for urgent humanitarian reasons, as well as to respect the principle of non-return ”. Deputy Julio Borges, who acts as a representative of the Venezuelan Juan Guaidó's team from Bogotá, asked the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to intervene in the case.

Trinidad and Tobago's tensions with migrants have been repeated, although Nicolás Maduro – who suffers an intense international siege – maintains good relations with the Caribbean country's prime minister, Keith Rowley. In Trinidad and Tobago there are currently about 40,000 Venezuelans and the country has limited reception with the imposition of visas since last year. Deportation has become a daily matter in Trinidad, a destination that is just 45 minutes by boat from the Venezuelan plains of Delta Amacuro. The police of that country ask its citizens to report by telephone the presence of immigrants in an irregular situation. More than 440 Venezuelans were arrested in 2018 for being undocumented, without proper legal and medical assistance, according to Refugees International.

Trinidad's Security Minister, Stuart Young, declared on Tuesday that he was unaware of the situation of the deported minors and questioned the complaints, even when they are accompanied by videos of the children inside the boats. In a press conference he attacked with more threats. "If a migrant enters the island illegally, he immediately becomes an undesirable person and will face consequences," said the official. "We say to legal Venezuelans on the island: if it is discovered that they are helping other of their countrymen without documents, their permission will be revoked and they will also be deported."

Smolansky denounced that he has not been able to visit the Caribbean country to know first-hand the situation of Venezuelans, despite having asked the Rowley government for permission for more than a year. "Detention, denial of permits, violence and mistreatment of women and xenophobia have become recurrent in Trinidad and Tobago," he says. The maritime routes between Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have become a transit corridor for human trafficking networks that some researchers estimate at more than 4,000 Venezuelans in the last four years. Last year, two boats with 71 Venezuelan migrants disappeared after leaving Güiria, in the east of the country.

In October, US Democratic Senator Bob Menéndez denounced that the Donald Trump administration was deporting Venezuelans through Trinidad and Tobago. “New documents provided to my office confirm that US deportations to Venezuela continued through third countries until at least March 2020, while the Trump Administration has offered little assurance that it will not continue to forcibly return the Venezuelans to a regime that the United Nations recently declared has committed crimes against humanity, ”Menéndez wrote in a letter sent to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and other officials in which he asked for explanations about these complaints. So far neither the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry nor Maduro have referred to the deported children.

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