Migrant squatting, prostitution worry MPs

Squat­ting, squab­bles and sex-re­lat­ed prob­lems.

Re­ports of squat­ting in Cen­tral Trinidad by some Venezue­lans and the oc­cu­pan­cy of aban­doned South hous­es are among the mixed bag of is­sues re­sult­ing from the in­flux of mi­grants to T&T in re­cent months.

Oth­er is­sues in­clude cer­tain Clax­ton Bay-based Venezue­lan women be­ing fol­lowed home by T&T men af­ter work—and maxi taxis fer­ry­ing “ar­rivals” out of cer­tain La Brea coastal ar­eas.

Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans on both sides who’ve been track­ing the im­pact on their con­stituen­cies of the ris­ing tide of im­mi­grants have not­ed these and oth­er is­sues as the two cul­tures try to deal with the new ex­pe­ri­ence pre­sent­ed by Venezuela’s in­sta­bil­i­ty and Gov­ern­ment’s up­com­ing bid to as­cer­tain how many Venezue­lans are in T&T dur­ing an amnesty reg­is­tra­tion process start­ing this week.

In the count­down to Fri­day’s start of the Gov­ern­ment’s two-week reg­is­tra­tion dri­ve, while most MPs said yes­ter­day that mi­grants main­ly try to earn their keep, cer­tain Op­po­si­tion MPs were doubt­ful—from what some Venezue­lans tell them—the reg­is­tra­tion will at­tract suf­fi­cient re­sponse to in­form Gov­ern­ment on ex­act­ly how many Venezue­lans are in T&T. That’s the in­tent of the ex­er­cise which will al­low reg­is­trants a one-year work stint and de­port the un­doc­u­ment­ed.

The T&T Guardian com­piled some of the ex­tent of the Venezue­lan in­flux—and ef­fects—in var­i­ous con­stituen­cies from the MPs:

Cou­va North MP Ra­mona Ram­di­al: “There’s a large num­ber of Venezue­lans in my area, main­ly do­ing low-pay­ing jobs and con­se­quent­ly we do have is­sues. There’s com­pe­ti­tion on for jobs and my con­stituents are com­plain­ing. Land­lords rent­ing to them cau­tious about be­ing able to con­trol ten­ants since one or two may rent a place and end up with 10 peo­ple in it. Squab­bles/quar­rel with neigh­bours are al­so be­ing re­port­ed.

“But there’s al­so a lot of squat­ting by Venezue­lans around Brick­field and coastal ar­eas where they’re mix­ing in with squat­ters there. Apart from the hu­man traf­fick­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion con­cerns that are on­go­ing, there are al­so emerg­ing con­cerns, that some fish­ing sec­tors, due to lack of reg­u­lar gas, may be in­clined to turn to ‘trans­porta­tion’ as al­ter­na­tive busi­ness.”

Port-of-Spain South MP Mar­lene Mc­Don­ald: “Venezue­lans have al­ways been in Wood­brook/Port-of-Spain ar­eas, as some came to learn Span­ish there over the years. But we’ve had an in­flux now as busi­ness­es are em­ploy­ing them. It rais­es many ques­tions when cit­i­zens can’t find work, yet they’re find­ing work, so we have to find ways to han­dle this as­pect. Many con­stituents tell me peo­ple are pass­ing dai­ly ask­ing if they have rentals and some con­stituents feel it’s be­com­ing dan­ger­ous with strangers in their area. Sun­day (yes­ter­day) morn­ing a cou­ple and two young chil­dren rang my bell—in a res­i­den­tial St Joseph area—seek­ing to rent; they’re go­ing door to door. I al­so see Venezue­lans rent­ing in East Port-of-Spain. But our up­com­ing reg­is­tra­tion process will help man­age the sit­u­a­tion.”

Many Venezue­lans rent and work in Port-of-Spain North but some land­lords are now mon­i­tor­ing rentals close­ly, res­i­dents al­so say.

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee: “There’s quite a lot, in­clud­ing in Mara­bel­la, Clax­ton Bay; em­ployed in car wash­es, clubs, bars. There have been in­ci­dents but many go un­re­port­ed as some of these peo­ple are il­le­gal. Re­cent­ly, some fe­male Venezue­lan bar work­ers were fol­lowed to their Macaulay home by lo­cal cus­tomers. We’ve asked Clax­ton Bay po­lice for more reg­u­lar pa­trols, es­pe­cial­ly around bars’ clos­ing time. With Petrotrin’s clo­sure, we have a lot of aban­doned build­ings on the sea­side and I un­der­stand peo­ple are tak­ing oc­cu­pan­cy. We’re try­ing to as­cer­tain whether lo­cal or for­eign. Con­stituents are al­so con­cerned about job com­pe­ti­tion due to Petrotrin’s ab­sence. Since Gov­ern­ment is so dis­con­nect­ed from peo­ple, I re­al­ly doubt the reg­is­tra­tion in its cur­rent for­mat will at­tain its tar­get.”

Ma­yaro MP Rush­ton Paray: “We have a cou­ple hun­dred peo­ple. Those I’ve en­coun­tered say they may not reg­is­ter as they feel they’ll be de­port­ed af­ter a year. They don’t un­der­stand the process and don’t want to re­turn home as they feel the sit­u­a­tion with Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion won’t be re­solved. So they may end up hid­ing. Many are work­ing in bars and oth­er places and there’s the per­cep­tion of pros­ti­tu­tion. I’ve ad­vised groups work­ing with them to let them know to con­duct them­selves bet­ter, as danc­ing half-naked in bars doesn’t as­sist their cause. We’ve all not­ed T&T fe­males are fum­ing on so­cial me­dia about the sit­u­a­tion. From a busi­ness per­spec­tive, mi­grants can as­sist the econ­o­my if their tal­ent’s used in ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels, but Gov­ern­ment moved on this hu­man­i­tar­i­an cri­sis late.”

Oropouche East MP Roodal Mooni­lal: “There’s high con­cen­tra­tion in Pe­nal/Debe. Many work in bars and restau­rants, which has im­pli­ca­tions for so­cial/med­ical ser­vices. But some are un­able to af­ford ac­com­mo­da­tion and live in squalor. Some groups are pro­vid­ing wa­ter and foods but the sit­u­a­tion is strain­ing com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices. The dark­er side is re­port­ed pros­ti­tu­tion and im­pact on T&T fam­i­lies. One la­dy told me four months ago her hus­band vis­its a bar dai­ly - but doesn’t drink al­co­hol. Bar own­ers are tend­ing to hire Venezue­lans to at­tract cus­tomers. If more ar­rive, South­ern con­stituen­cies may buck­le un­der the strain of pro­vid­ing ser­vices, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tion since Gov­ern­ment failed to com­plete many schools.”

La Brea MP Nicole Olivierre: “We know they’re there but peo­ple on­ly see one or two Venezue­lans here; one man runs a restau­rant in the area. Con­stituents don’t com­plain but I’ve had re­ports that when peo­ple ar­rive from Venezuela, maxi taxis from out­side our area come to coastal points and take them out and we’re al­so aware of an il­le­gal ‘port’ where they ar­rive. It doesn’t seem they re­main here so it’s not im­pact­ing on con­stituents.”

Ch­agua­nas West MP Gan­ga Singh: “We have a large pres­ence. In places, five or six rent premis­es for $3,500/$4,000. Since Ch­agua­nas is a pro­duc­tiv­i­ty cen­tre, many are en­gaged in tyre shops, sell­ing etc. They’re hard work­ing. But my re­ports con­firm a lev­el of ex­ploita­tion and some re­ceiv­ing less than min­i­mum wage. Many have re­al fear of reg­is­ter­ing since they’re scared Im­mi­gra­tion will know where they are and de­port them. They’re con­fused by Gov­ern­ment’s state­ments and the lan­guage bar­ri­er isn’t help­ing. Giv­en the right ap­proach, the reg­is­tra­tion could work. But is­sues should have been ad­dressed to pre­vent the cur­rent ‘round up’ ap­proach.”


Fyz­abad - MP Lack­ram Bo­doe’s is over­seas but his col­league Su­ruj Ram­bachan, who is at his Fyz­abad prop­er­ty al­most dai­ly, said: “Venezue­lan num­bers have quadru­pled in the last three weeks in Fyz­abad and San­ta Flo­ra es­pe­cial­ly. Dai­ly, five to sev­en peo­ple come job-seek­ing, very humbly, even of­fer­ing to work for as lit­tle as $100 dai­ly. They plead that they have to eat so it’s pos­si­ble they could be open to ex­ploita­tion. They seem in bad shape, some come, hold­ing three-month-old ba­bies who they say come with them ‘on the boat’. It seems in some cas­es they’re oc­cu­py­ing aban­doned hous­es, but some ob­vi­ous­ly don’t have a fixed place of abode.

“Most of the men are be­low 25 and women un­der 25. Gen­er­al­ly, many tell me - via in­ter­preter- they’re ap­pre­hen­sive about reg­is­ter­ing be­cause they seem to think a yel­low pa­per they get from Im­mi­gra­tion - for the 90-day stay- al­lows them to stay here in­def­i­nite­ly. They keep that with them con­tin­u­ous­ly. One man was ar­rest­ed in Fyz­abad for not hav­ing it. They know lit­tle about min­i­mum wage but those I met are hard­work­ing and skilled, some even uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates. This cri­sis could strain south Trinidad’s re­sources. We should par­tic­u­lar­ly have a med­ical camp to en­sure they’re healthy, es­pe­cial­ly those liv­ing in for­est camps. While T&T peo­ple are very gen­er­ous, the pres­ence of so many Venezue­lans has seen so­cial ten­sions de­vel­op­ing with lo­cals un­able to get work. But it must be con­sid­ered it takes much courage to bring ba­bies on the high seas, so clear­ly, some of them sin­cere­ly want to earn a liv­ing.”

Na­pari­ma MP Rod­ney Charles: “ Ten percent in my area are for­eign­ers and po­lice say a 10 percent in­crease in crime is due to that. They’re hid­ing un­der the radar but you can see in­creas­es as they work in bars with con­trac­tors and oth­er places. The biggest sign of their pres­ence is women com­plain­ing to me that their fam­i­lies are be­ing bro­ken up by their pres­ence but we lack da­ta. The Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Min­is­ter’s even failed to ex­plain how they de­cid­ed on the num­ber of reg­is­tra­tion cen­tres which Venezue­lans are say­ing are in­suf­fi­cient.”

Ca­roni Cen­tral MP Bhoe Tewarie: “Their sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence is seen in apart­ment rentals where there are more peo­ple per room than nor­mal. The num­ber of con­stituen­cy com­pa­nies hir­ing al­so means ei­ther lo­cals aren’t get­ting jobs or don’t want to work. My in­for­ma­tion is the Venezue­lans are gen­er­al­ly un­der­paid and work long hours. While reg­is­tra­tion’s de­sir­able, it’s in a con­text where it’s hard to en­force, we seem un­able to man­age bor­der in­flux and there’s the ques­tion of how many peo­ple can T&T ab­sorb to sup­port all hu­mane­ly and deal with in­te­gra­tion.”

Ca­roni East MP Tim Gopeesingh: “ There are scores in St He­le­na/Kel­ly I en­coun­tered dur­ing flood­ing. Con­stituents help and ac­com­mo­date them, in­clud­ing find­ing them jobs. While there’s the sus­pi­cion of pros­ti­tu­tion, in­ci­dents are un­con­firmed.”

Point Fortin may­or Ab­don Ma­son: “We’d want to en­sure no neg­a­tives - crime, pros­ti­tu­tion, etcetera - in our area from any un­con­trolled in­flux. We have our own chal­lenges so we’d not want peo­ple in their quest to han­dle their own, add neg­a­tives to ours.”

Laven­tille West MP Fitzger­ald Hinds: "I haven't re­ceived com­plaints from con­stituents but at the na­tion­al lev­el we're deal­ing with the Venezue­lan pres­ence and the ef­fects on our porous bor­ders via our reg­is­tra­tion process and se­cu­ri­ty frame­work - there are 135 il­le­gal ports of en­try. But once our reg­is­tra­tion is done, we'll know who's pro­tect­ed eco­nom­ic mi­grant and who isn't."

Princes Town MP Bar­ry Padarath: “We've seen over 18 months Venezue­lans set­tling in St Ju­lian Vil­lage, Matil­da, Craig­nish and not­ed an equal num­ber of them mar­ry­ing lo­cal men and women, in­te­grat­ing ap­par­ent­ly to get res­i­den­cy. Dur­ing our Christ­mas Toy Dri­ve, we vis­it­ed homes and saw where they’ve set­tled and have chil­dren. What’s wor­ry­ing is there’s been sev­er­al al­ter­ca­tions in­volv­ing Venezue­lans in the area in the last six months and peo­ple who’ve em­ployed some as do­mes­tics have re­port­ed thefts."

Tabaquite- While MP Su­ruj Ram­bachan not­ed an in­flux in Gas­par­il­lo, Re­form and oth­er ar­eas, a dis­trict church has been en­sur­ing some Venezue­lans have a dai­ly meal. Cou­va/Tabqauite/Tal­paro Re­gion­al Cor­po­ra­tion chair­man Hen­ry Awong, added, “Con­stituents have two con­cerns - en­sur­ing they get jobs in this com­pet­i­tive at­mos­phere with Venezue­lans ar­riv­ing in batch­es and where some busi­ness­men are glad for the very cheap labour. Al­so, peo­ple are wor­ried health fa­cil­i­ties won’t hold up as some rur­al health cen­tres al­ready rou­tine­ly lack drugs.”

Ari­ma MP An­tho­ny Gar­cia: “Ari­ma has a high num­ber but I haven’t re­ceived com­plaints. Groups help them, in­clud­ing with food.”

San Juan-Barataria MP Fuad Khan: "My area has many judg­ing from high rental lev­els. Some have been robbed but didn't re­port it. Per­haps if they reg­is­ter, they'll re­port it. They work hard I've seen. Some mea­sure should be im­ple­ment­ed to en­sure they get min­i­mum wage af­ter reg­is­tra­tion. My con­stituents recog­nise once they mas­ter Eng­lish, Venezue­lans will be a force to be reck­oned with in T&T and our de­mo­graph­ics can change. So cit­i­zens should learn from them be­cause they'll be com­pe­ti­tion."

- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Rishi Ragoonath.