Squatting, squabbles and sex-related problems.
Reports of squatting in Central Trinidad by some Venezuelans and the occupancy of abandoned South houses are among the mixed bag of issues resulting from the influx of migrants to T&T in recent months.
Other issues include certain Claxton Bay-based Venezuelan women being followed home by T&T men after work—and maxi taxis ferrying “arrivals” out of certain La Brea coastal areas.
Parliamentarians on both sides who’ve been tracking the impact on their constituencies of the rising tide of immigrants have noted these and other issues as the two cultures try to deal with the new experience presented by Venezuela’s instability and Government’s upcoming bid to ascertain how many Venezuelans are in T&T during an amnesty registration process starting this week.
In the countdown to Friday’s start of the Government’s two-week registration drive, while most MPs said yesterday that migrants mainly try to earn their keep, certain Opposition MPs were doubtful—from what some Venezuelans tell them—the registration will attract sufficient response to inform Government on exactly how many Venezuelans are in T&T. That’s the intent of the exercise which will allow registrants a one-year work stint and deport the undocumented.
The T&T Guardian compiled some of the extent of the Venezuelan influx—and effects—in various constituencies from the MPs:
Couva North MP Ramona Ramdial: “There’s a large number of Venezuelans in my area, mainly doing low-paying jobs and consequently we do have issues. There’s competition on for jobs and my constituents are complaining. Landlords renting to them cautious about being able to control tenants since one or two may rent a place and end up with 10 people in it. Squabbles/quarrel with neighbours are also being reported.
“But there’s also a lot of squatting by Venezuelans around Brickfield and coastal areas where they’re mixing in with squatters there. Apart from the human trafficking and prostitution concerns that are ongoing, there are also emerging concerns, that some fishing sectors, due to lack of regular gas, may be inclined to turn to ‘transportation’ as alternative business.”
Port-of-Spain South MP Marlene McDonald: “Venezuelans have always been in Woodbrook/Port-of-Spain areas, as some came to learn Spanish there over the years. But we’ve had an influx now as businesses are employing them. It raises many questions when citizens can’t find work, yet they’re finding work, so we have to find ways to handle this aspect. Many constituents tell me people are passing daily asking if they have rentals and some constituents feel it’s becoming dangerous with strangers in their area. Sunday (yesterday) morning a couple and two young children rang my bell—in a residential St Joseph area—seeking to rent; they’re going door to door. I also see Venezuelans renting in East Port-of-Spain. But our upcoming registration process will help manage the situation.”
Many Venezuelans rent and work in Port-of-Spain North but some landlords are now monitoring rentals closely, residents also say.
Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee: “There’s quite a lot, including in Marabella, Claxton Bay; employed in car washes, clubs, bars. There have been incidents but many go unreported as some of these people are illegal. Recently, some female Venezuelan bar workers were followed to their Macaulay home by local customers. We’ve asked Claxton Bay police for more regular patrols, especially around bars’ closing time. With Petrotrin’s closure, we have a lot of abandoned buildings on the seaside and I understand people are taking occupancy. We’re trying to ascertain whether local or foreign. Constituents are also concerned about job competition due to Petrotrin’s absence. Since Government is so disconnected from people, I really doubt the registration in its current format will attain its target.”
Mayaro MP Rushton Paray: “We have a couple hundred people. Those I’ve encountered say they may not register as they feel they’ll be deported after a year. They don’t understand the process and don’t want to return home as they feel the situation with Maduro’s administration won’t be resolved. So they may end up hiding. Many are working in bars and other places and there’s the perception of prostitution. I’ve advised groups working with them to let them know to conduct themselves better, as dancing half-naked in bars doesn’t assist their cause. We’ve all noted T&T females are fuming on social media about the situation. From a business perspective, migrants can assist the economy if their talent’s used in appropriate channels, but Government moved on this humanitarian crisis late.”
Oropouche East MP Roodal Moonilal: “There’s high concentration in Penal/Debe. Many work in bars and restaurants, which has implications for social/medical services. But some are unable to afford accommodation and live in squalor. Some groups are providing water and foods but the situation is straining community services. The darker side is reported prostitution and impact on T&T families. One lady told me four months ago her husband visits a bar daily - but doesn’t drink alcohol. Bar owners are tending to hire Venezuelans to attract customers. If more arrive, Southern constituencies may buckle under the strain of providing services, including education since Government failed to complete many schools.”
La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre: “We know they’re there but people only see one or two Venezuelans here; one man runs a restaurant in the area. Constituents don’t complain but I’ve had reports that when people arrive from Venezuela, maxi taxis from outside our area come to coastal points and take them out and we’re also aware of an illegal ‘port’ where they arrive. It doesn’t seem they remain here so it’s not impacting on constituents.”
Chaguanas West MP Ganga Singh: “We have a large presence. In places, five or six rent premises for $3,500/$4,000. Since Chaguanas is a productivity centre, many are engaged in tyre shops, selling etc. They’re hard working. But my reports confirm a level of exploitation and some receiving less than minimum wage. Many have real fear of registering since they’re scared Immigration will know where they are and deport them. They’re confused by Government’s statements and the language barrier isn’t helping. Given the right approach, the registration could work. But issues should have been addressed to prevent the current ‘round up’ approach.”
Fyzabad - MP Lackram Bodoe’s is overseas but his colleague Suruj Rambachan, who is at his Fyzabad property almost daily, said: “Venezuelan numbers have quadrupled in the last three weeks in Fyzabad and Santa Flora especially. Daily, five to seven people come job-seeking, very humbly, even offering to work for as little as $100 daily. They plead that they have to eat so it’s possible they could be open to exploitation. They seem in bad shape, some come, holding three-month-old babies who they say come with them ‘on the boat’. It seems in some cases they’re occupying abandoned houses, but some obviously don’t have a fixed place of abode.
“Most of the men are below 25 and women under 25. Generally, many tell me - via interpreter- they’re apprehensive about registering because they seem to think a yellow paper they get from Immigration - for the 90-day stay- allows them to stay here indefinitely. They keep that with them continuously. One man was arrested in Fyzabad for not having it. They know little about minimum wage but those I met are hardworking and skilled, some even university graduates. This crisis could strain south Trinidad’s resources. We should particularly have a medical camp to ensure they’re healthy, especially those living in forest camps. While T&T people are very generous, the presence of so many Venezuelans has seen social tensions developing with locals unable to get work. But it must be considered it takes much courage to bring babies on the high seas, so clearly, some of them sincerely want to earn a living.”
Naparima MP Rodney Charles: “ Ten percent in my area are foreigners and police say a 10 percent increase in crime is due to that. They’re hiding under the radar but you can see increases as they work in bars with contractors and other places. The biggest sign of their presence is women complaining to me that their families are being broken up by their presence but we lack data. The National Security Minister’s even failed to explain how they decided on the number of registration centres which Venezuelans are saying are insufficient.”
Caroni Central MP Bhoe Tewarie: “Their significant presence is seen in apartment rentals where there are more people per room than normal. The number of constituency companies hiring also means either locals aren’t getting jobs or don’t want to work. My information is the Venezuelans are generally underpaid and work long hours. While registration’s desirable, it’s in a context where it’s hard to enforce, we seem unable to manage border influx and there’s the question of how many people can T&T absorb to support all humanely and deal with integration.”
Caroni East MP Tim Gopeesingh: “ There are scores in St Helena/Kelly I encountered during flooding. Constituents help and accommodate them, including finding them jobs. While there’s the suspicion of prostitution, incidents are unconfirmed.”
Point Fortin mayor Abdon Mason: “We’d want to ensure no negatives - crime, prostitution, etcetera - in our area from any uncontrolled influx. We have our own challenges so we’d not want people in their quest to handle their own, add negatives to ours.”
Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds: "I haven't received complaints from constituents but at the national level we're dealing with the Venezuelan presence and the effects on our porous borders via our registration process and security framework - there are 135 illegal ports of entry. But once our registration is done, we'll know who's protected economic migrant and who isn't."
Princes Town MP Barry Padarath: “We've seen over 18 months Venezuelans settling in St Julian Village, Matilda, Craignish and noted an equal number of them marrying local men and women, integrating apparently to get residency. During our Christmas Toy Drive, we visited homes and saw where they’ve settled and have children. What’s worrying is there’s been several altercations involving Venezuelans in the area in the last six months and people who’ve employed some as domestics have reported thefts."
Tabaquite- While MP Suruj Rambachan noted an influx in Gasparillo, Reform and other areas, a district church has been ensuring some Venezuelans have a daily meal. Couva/Tabqauite/Talparo Regional Corporation chairman Henry Awong, added, “Constituents have two concerns - ensuring they get jobs in this competitive atmosphere with Venezuelans arriving in batches and where some businessmen are glad for the very cheap labour. Also, people are worried health facilities won’t hold up as some rural health centres already routinely lack drugs.”
Arima MP Anthony Garcia: “Arima has a high number but I haven’t received complaints. Groups help them, including with food.”
San Juan-Barataria MP Fuad Khan: "My area has many judging from high rental levels. Some have been robbed but didn't report it. Perhaps if they register, they'll report it. They work hard I've seen. Some measure should be implemented to ensure they get minimum wage after registration. My constituents recognise once they master English, Venezuelans will be a force to be reckoned with in T&T and our demographics can change. So citizens should learn from them because they'll be competition."
- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Rishi Ragoonath.