Relatives of 22 refugees who have not been seen since they left Güiria, Venezuela, on Thursday evening for T&T, are appealing for searches to be launched for their missing loved ones.
The five Venezuelans told the T&T Guardian their relatives, including infants and children, who were on board the pirogue Ana Maria which left Güiria around 4 pm last Thursday bound for Chaguaramas. They are seeking answers after hearing unconfirmed reports that the vessel had capsized and one survivor, Alberto Abreu, was rescued by a US businessman and taken to Grenada.
However, up to late yesterday authorities in T&T and Venezuela said they had no reports of a boat mishap or migrants missing at sea and had not launched searches.
Jhaymie Zoque, speaking on behalf of worried relatives of the missing migrants, said two days ago she took her friend Lorenzo Martinez, who has refugee status in T&T, to Chaguaramas where he expected to meet his 16-year-old wife and their eight-month-old son.
They were among several people on board the Ana Maria who left Güiria, the capital of the Venezuelan state of Vargas, to enter T&T illegally, Zoque said. They waited for several hours but no one arrived, Zoque said.
“We were thinking an average time they would reach Trinidad is about 7 in the night. We wait until 12 pm and we realised they wasn’t coming. We started to get anxious because we had no news but we didn’t think nothing wrong because of things happening in Venezuela. We thought they got hold or they ran out of gas. We didn’t think the worst.
“So I left and I went home. The next day we had no news, not even from La Güiria, to say whether they came back, or nothing from Trinidad that they reached,” she said.
As anxiety grows and hope dwindles, Zoque said they are hearing a lot of stories.
“Some people saying the boat sink. We hearing Coast Guard hold them but there is nothing official and we are desperate for answers,” she said.
On Saturday, Robert Richards, a businessman from the US Virgin Islands, said in a post on his Facebook page that Abreu, a passenger from the missing vessel, was rescued after he was found drifting in the sea off Chaguaramas and taken to Grenada.
He wrote: “We found this young man 30 miles offshore of Trinidad in some sporty sea conditions fighting for his life, he had been in the water for 19 hours, while we were bringing our new boats back. He was on a boat that sunk the night before with 20 other people on board, so far no other survivors, they were on their way to Trinidad to buy food because there home of Isla De Margarita a Venezuela island has limited food that’s very expensive, it’s a very sad thing going on there GOD bless the lost ones !”
However, National Security Minister Stuart Young told the T&T Guardian as far as he is aware no one has been picked up in the open sea. He said the T&T Coast Guard has been patrolling the area and is always on the lookout for vessels in this country’s territorial waters.
“As far as I am informed, no bodies, vessels, or any other content that may be expected on a boat, have been spotted by the Coast Guard,” Young said.
T&T is a preferred destination for Venezuelans fleeing economic hardships.
“In Lorenzo’s case he wanted to bring his wife here for a better life and his son, his only son but he does not know what happened to them. It is too many hours already and they were coming on the sea,” Zoque said.
Jose Mata, whose 19-year-old nephew Adrian was also on the vessel, scoffed at the idea that officials of the Venezuelan Embassy in T&T would be willing to help.
“The Embassy doesn’t even help us. It is going to be a waste of time. The Embassy only put their hands in something when they have a political interest,” he said.
There are unconfirmed reports that another vessel, which left Margarita Island off of Venezuela with about 20 on board, is also missing.
Reports of a boat mishap in the waters between T&T and Venezuela comes just weeks after 11 of 34 people, mostly women, were rescued after the boat they were on sank near Patos Island, in the Dragon’s Mouth on April 23.
In that incident, the pirogue B/P Jhimmaly Jose, which had sailed from Las Salinas in Güiria, was overloaded when it experienced engine failure and sank.
Zoque said she believes more Venezuelans are risking their lives to come to T&T because of the one year amnesty that is being offered. The registration period for the amnesty is May 31 to June 14.
“Obviously people will want to come here to get that opportunity. It is like you hear the United States giving free work permit so you run to get it,” she said.
“It’s like you have family and friends going to Canada to work so imagine if you get this news you can come here to work and you don’t have problems...no jail or anything will happen to you. Right now we just want the chance to survive,” she said.
Zoque said despite the turmoil in her homeland, Venezuelans yearn to return.
“We want our stuff to fix back. For sure 100 per cent of us will go back to Venezuela because we are strangers here. We are like aliens,” she said, noting the language and cultural barriers in T&T.