Venezuelans hiding in forest, feeding off mangoes and coconuts

Desperate to escape being caught by the police, more than 50 Venezuelan women and their children are hiding in the forests of Icacos, feeding off mangoes and coconuts.

By dusk, when the mosquitoes, gnats and sandflies descend to feed, the hungry women stumble out of the forests in search of food, holding their children protectively around them.

Guardian Media went in search of the bush families on Thursday and saw evidence of their existence. Fresh foot tracks were seen in the forest leading to the sea and a knapsack was spotted on the road.

A team of officers from the Customs and Excise Division were seen searching in a road leading to the beach near Galfar. It is an area accessible only through the bumpy Gran Chemin village in Icacos where an old colonial road once broke off leaving the land exposed to the sea.

Villager Roxanne Williams who was seen shredding coconut leaves to make cocoyea brooms confirmed that she had seen the homeless forest children.

"It is so sad seeing them. I cannot imagine how they are living in there where there are snakes and all kinds of animals," she said.

These children from a remote village in La Boquita were among the few who were taken in by Icacos residents. Villagers say more than 50 children and women are living off coconuts and mangoes in the forested parts of Icacos. Photo by Kristian De Silva

Williams added, "We estimate that about 300 of them came up here over the past few days. On Wednesday I saw one woman who had a baby not older than a year. The other child was about four. They were looking for food. They run across the road when they saw me."

She said whenever the Venezuelans see the police, Customs or Immigration, they would run in the bushes and hide.

Another villager Candy Edwards said he estimated there were still about 50 Venezuelans hiding in the bushes and abandoned coconut estates in Icacos. 

"Some of those who came before had a contact to take them to various places to work but many who are coming now have no money, no possessions and nowhere to go," Edwards said.

Having been imprisoned in Venezuela for 52 days after being arrested by the Guardia Nacional last year, Edwards said the last thing he wanted was to be in Venezuela.

- by Radhica De Silva

You can read the full version of this report in Friday's Trinidad Guardian.

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