Venezuela refugees squatting at Nonpareil foreshore, to be relocated

One of the homes being built by a returning family

With nowhere else to go, five families have taken up squatting on the Nonpareil, East Coast Demerara foreshore after fleeing from the crisis in Venezuela and official efforts are now underway to relocate them.

The Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP) yesterday announced in a statement that the National Multi-Sectoral Coordinating Committee was concerned over reports of a group of Spanish-speaking migrants, believed to be Venezuelans, setting up makeshift housing structures along the seashore.

“This matter is currently engaging the attention of the Demerara-Mahaica (Region Four) Regional Administration and the Guyana Police Force (GPF),” the statement added.

The shack shared by the Asrayya brothers and their families

Chairman of the Buxton-Foulis Neighbourhood Democratic Council Neirpaul Purai told Stabroek News that the council was instructed to clamp down on the illegal move. He noted that he was contacted by the Region Four Regional Democratic Council, to dismantle the structures.

Nonetheless, he said a team comprising representatives of the Civil Defence Commission (CDC), the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and officials from the United Nations informed him that it would be a human rights violation to tear down the homes of the migrants without having a place to relocate them.

The MoTP statement said the CDC and the IOM “are standing by to render assistance in terms of relocating these displaced persons.”

Stabroek News was told that there are currently four homes housing approximately 26 persons, comprising both adults and children, squatting at the foreshore. Their makeshift homes, constructed out of mainly discarded materials, were built within the last six months.

The interior of Antonio Asrayya’s home

During this newspaper’s visit last evening, the area was almost pitch black, save for the light escaping through the creases of the squatters’ homes. Satrohan Khemraj, 29, who is the patriarch of one of the families, was filling containers with water for future use. “Water is a big problem for us here. We don’t have pipes and we have to ask neighbours for water. We have to be begging at different houses. People don’t want to give you some water to survive…,” Khemraj, a Guyanese by birth and one of the first persons to begin squatting on the reserve, explained.

He noted that while life was different in Venezuela and he had owned his own home, the economic crisis forced him to relocate here with his family.

A meal being cooked on a fireside set up at the squatting area

He said he moved to the Nonpareil location with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 16 months, after they were evicted from the place they were renting at Melanie Damishana as he was unable to pay the rent because he could not find a job.

“Getting work in Guyana is hard and when they know you come from a foreign country they just want to take advantage of you and work you for cheap labour,” Khemraj, who is described as a “jack of all trades,” related.

“I wasn’t getting jobs and the landlord put us out. We didn’t had anywhere to go. A day when I was taking my son to school, I saw persons squatting and decided to move here. As you see, bare old materials I used and build up the house. I beg people for two, two piece and build this house,” he added.

When asked how the family survives, Khemraj said he is currently employed as a part-time security guard with a security service. Although the salary he receives at the end of the month is not enough, he said he is grateful as he is able to provide for his family.

“I am trying here. I started a little kitchen garden but water is the main problem. We can’t get it and it is a struggle. I will go to the sea and set a seine catch some fish and share it with the neighbours,” he added.

‘Nothing else’

A house away, two brothers and their families are sharing a single-flat home, where they said sleeping on the dirt floor is something they have to still get accustomed to. “We have to throw the mattress on the floor and sleep. It is uncomfortable but we have nothing else. A neighbour help with a bed but one of us has to sleep on the floor,” Antonio Asrayya said.

Asrayya has a wife and two children, while his brother has a wife and a daughter. While they are of Guyanese parentage, they have lived most of their lives in Venezuela.

“We had nowhere to go, so we ended up here. But people keep reporting us. We know we are squatting and it is illegal but we have nowhere else to go,” he explained.

While he and his brother are masons, they pointed out that it has been difficult for them to find jobs. “We sometimes get work but the money just buy ration. We can’t save if we want to survive,” Asrayya explained, while pointing out that on days when they don’t work, they will go fishing or try to catch crabs between the mangroves.

“It is hard and we are trying to survive. I can’t afford not even a kerosene stove right now, so we are cooking on a fireside,” he said.

Both families that spoke with this newspaper said they are willing to relocate and even purchase land to construct homes once an area is identified by the government. “We will appreciate if we can get a land anywhere on the East Coast, even if we have to pay for it… We are not lazy, we are hustling… Down here when the rain fall, we get wet and I have two kids. It is not comfortable. We cannot build anything permanent,” Khemraj said in a plea for assistance.

Asrayya also called for an intervention that could assist the families in owning house lots as he said that they are striving for a better life.  “We are just looking for some help… we didn’t come back to thief or kill any one… we all want a better life for our families,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the MoTP statement noted that the number of Venezuelan migrants in Guyana now stands at 4, 421. The figure was released during a National Multi-Sectoral Coordinating Committee meeting at the Department of Citizenship’s boardroom, at Shiv Chanderpaul Drive.

It noted that a new Displacement Tracking Matrix conducted by the IOM in Region Two and Region Seven showed a continuation of the trend of the migrants being mostly females between the ages of 18 and 30, the majority of whom have completed secondary education.

It was also pointed out that as the “committee continues to work to develop a comprehensive, sustainable programme to support migrants, the IOM, in the coming weeks, will embark on an initiative to train representatives of the various agencies in the areas of Camp Management and Camp Coordination and Trafficking, Smuggling and Exploitation for Migrants.”

Additionally, income generation and employment opportunities remain at the top of the list of needs of migrants at this time, the statement explained.

The statement said that over the past two weeks the CDC distributed 150 food hampers at Kaikan (Region Seven), 30 food and non-food items in Khan’s Hill, Barima-Waini (Region One) and 22 food and hygiene kits at Imbotero (also in Region One).

Additionally, over 800 non-food hampers have been sent to the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Base Camp Everaad to be distributed in Region One.

It was also noted that the CDC’s work with regard to migrant relief has attracted the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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