As Venezuela continues to grapple with the ongoing refugee crisis – the largest external displacement crisis in Latin America’s recent history according to United Nations, several countries in the Caribbean region have been left to bear the brunt of those on the run.
Since 2013, the Venezuelan economy has contracted by 65 percent, resulting in shortages of basic supplies, such as food and medicines, in recent years. The humanitarian crisis turned to political turmoil in 2019, amid an ongoing presidential dispute between Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido.
Since 2015, approximately five million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela – about 16 percent of the population. The figure is comparable to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis which saw 4.8 million people fleeing the country from 2011 to 2016.
The vast majority of Venezuelans on the move have stayed within the region, settling in other South American countries like Peru, Columbia and Brazil. But in recent years, more and more Venezuelans have been travelling by sea and attempting to settle in Caribbean islands.
As the most southern CARICOM island, Trinidad and Tobago has been the most popular destination for the refugees. Three years into the crisis, by 2018, approximately 40,000 had gone to Trinidad and Tobago, some 28,500 to the Dominican Republic and 16,000 to Aruba.
Just this week, on Tuesday, an estimated 167 Venezuelans were detained to be deported from Trinidad and Tobago. The day before, 32 Venezuelans were found on a boat near the island. They were medically examined and transported to the Chaguaramas Heliport where they will undergo 14 days’ quarantine.
The local police announced new measures to deal with the growing number of illegal Venezuelans being apprehended on the twin-island.
“Going forward we are going to be challenging persons who we meet outside there and we are going to be asking them to show their documentation, because on the face of it, I cannot tell who is legal and who is illegal,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police, Jayson Forde.
“So we are going to be challenging them. If you are found to be wanting, we are going to charge you and you will be sentenced after facing court,” he added.
Forde said the Coast Guard will now turn back people on the high seas, while those who manage to land will be arrested, questioned, charged and repatriated.
In 2019, Trinidad’s government provided 16,000 Venezuelans with legal documents allowing them to access employment and reside in the country. They were given an automatic six-month extension and then the registration was extended up to December. Provisions were also previously made for some immigrants to go back to Venezuela and return to have their registration documents.
Trinidad’s new rules may be due to the economic blow suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The island has not yet reopened its tourism industry and earlier suffered a budget deficit of over US$2 Billion, due to a collapse in oil prices.
Before Trinidad, the Dominican Republic had imposed measures to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. In December, the government stated that Venezuelans who reside in the country must have a visa to enter. The Venezuelan Diaspora in the Dominican Republic said the decision increases the vulnerability of people in the country in need of international protection.
Representatives from the United Nations have said there is seemingly “no end in sight” to Venezuela’s massive refugee crisis.