Barefeet and cold, little Lucia Meza sat on the street hungrily licking an empty pack of biscuits while her mother tried to find accommodation for them to spend the night.
The five-year-old child was among 105 people picked up by police during a massive crackdown on illegal Venezuelans on Wednesday. Among those arrested were four Venezuelan police officers and a fire officer.
Meza had been on a boat from Tucupita with her mother and several other children since Tuesday night. They arrived at Beach Camp, Palo Seco before dawn. They walked for two miles to a forest camp where they were rounded up and arrested by the police.
Thirty-five Venezuelans were held at Erin, 58 at Beach Camp and 12 at Cedros.
Looking harassed and scared, the Venezuelans were taken to the Siparia Police Station where they were interrogated. They were released from custody around 5 pm after getting an order of supervision clearance from the Immigration Division to stay until July.
However, police said more arrests are imminent.
While some celebrated their release, many were worried about where they would spend the night. A few of them were seen flagging down cars hoping to get transportation to their destinations. Eventually, it was the media who provided them with telephone calls and made arrangements to get them safely to their relatives, friends and contacts.
The children, including Meza, sat on a grassy verge on the front of the Penal taxi hub. Officers from the Siparia Police Station pooled their own money together and bought them doubles, sandwiches and soft drinks. A businessman brought them water.
A few who used the Guardian Media’s cellphone offer to make calls were scheduled to meet their contacts at various parts of the country, including Valencia, Sangre Grande, San Fernando and Penal.
Guardian Media later called Siparia Regional Corporation chairman Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh asking that arrangements be made for them. At first, he said they could stay in the old Siparia pavilion but eventually the Irwin Park facility was opened for them.
Last night, a further 12 people were picked up in the forests and taken to the station. A boat was also said to be out at sea waiting to dock.
The Ministry of National Security has imposed a crackdown on the ferries that bring in Venezuelans at Cedros and since this more Venezuelans are risking their lives to come through illegal points along the coastline.
Among the places they used as hideouts to await their contacts once sneaking into T&T are Dickie Trace, Aquillera Road, RE Road, Beach Camp, Erin and Santa Flora.
Since the influx increased, residents of these areas have been very wary of going to the beaches because of an increase in smuggling, contraband and trafficking.
Resident Frank Connell said the arrests were long in coming.
“It’s too much of them coming in here. The situation is we do not know anything about them. We don’t know who sick, who is criminals. Imagine I cannot even go to bathe in Palo Seco beach anymore because the Spanish coming in,” he said.
Connell explained that the Venezuelans were waiting for their contact persons to come for them when the police arrived.
Villagers stood in their homes gawking as the police patrolled up and down the road. They searched Beach Camp, Dickie Trace, Jackson Trace and in the forests of Beach Camp, which is two miles away from the beach.
Another villager who was heard conversing in Spanish said it was a sad thing to see the migrants in this state.
“They looking for a better life, that’s all,” she added.
National Security Minister Stuart Young last evening commended the police for the arrests, saying the exercise was intelligence driven. He said 93 Venezuelans were arrested in the exercise and were handed over to the Immigration Division for processing.
On Monday, Guardian Media reported that five women were being held hostage in a forest camp and being prostituted for $400 an hour. Following this statement, Senior Superintendent of the South Western Division Deonarine Basdeo dismissed the report as fake news. He said 22 camps were searched and no one was arrested. Guardian Media has also done an expose on the trafficking of Venezuelans in T&T.