Trinidad and Tobago Catholics aid Venezuelan migrants amid government crackdown

Religion News Service | 6/18/2018 | Staff
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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (RNS) — Yesenia Gonzalez immigrated to Trinidad and Tobago, the twin island Caribbean nation, from Venezuela 40 years ago when she was 18. She has raised her children and set up a successful business here.

But in recent months, Gonzalez has been spending less time with her loved ones and more time fighting for the safety of thousands of fellow Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago due to the economic and political tumult in their home country.

April - Venezuelans - Country - Trinidad - Tobago

This April, 82 Venezuelans were sent back to their country by Trinidad and Tobago officials. There have been other deportations in years past, but this one was significant because the Venezuelans were migrants seeking asylum or hoping to file for refugee status. Trinidad and Tobago’s government claimed they were held for various criminal offenses and said that the Venezuelans wanted to return home anyway.

Since then, Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago are afraid the same would happen to them. Efforts to speak with Venezuelans were mostly unsuccessful. Many are lying low as news of a “massive roundup” by officials spreads.

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“I’ve been living in Trinidad 40 years, and I never experienced something like this, how they are prejudice(d), racial,” Gonzalez said. “Why is it a problem now?”

The exact number of Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago is hard to come by. Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Ghandi-Andrews said in April that 150 to 200 Venezuelans are entering the country every week. But that number doesn’t account for those being smuggled in or coming through different ports of entry. Ghandi-Andrews estimated that 60,000 Venezuelans had arrived between 2014 and 2016.

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In the midst of the crackdown, Catholic Church leaders on the twin island are working to ensure Venezuelans receive compassion and a place to feel at home.

Following the April deportation, Archbishop of Port of...
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