22 Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

Venezuelan national Jhaymie Zoque, left, speaks to reporters at GML Building, St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain, yesterday on behalf of relatives of missing boat passengers from La Guaira, Venezuela, who went missing on a trip to Trinidad last Thursday. At right is Jose Mata whose relative is one of the missing passengers.

(Trinidad Guardian) Rel­a­tives of 22 refugees who have not been seen since they left Güiria, Venezuela, on Thurs­day evening for Trinidad & Tobago, 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 Trinidad & Tobago 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 Trinidad & Tobago.

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