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Venezuelans lined up for the registration process in June 2019.

AS Trinidad and Tobago works to seal all borders and close off small businesses such as bars to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), its Venezuelan migrant population is facing unique challenges.

Almost one year ago, a registration process was initiated by the Government which allowed 16,543 migrants fleeing a harsh economic climate in Venezuela to live and work in the country for a year.

The status of these registered workers remains in limbo.

The Minister of National Security, Stuart Young, has stated it was currently being reviewed.

Meanwhile, most migrants employed throughout the country are working temporary, minimum wage jobs.

And these jobs have been directly affected by the country’s efforts to practise social distancing.

According to Angie Ramnarine, co-ordinator of the La Romaine Migrants Support (LARMS), the closure of many small businesses to curb the spread of the virus has left many with barely enough money to survive.

“I don’t think people realise how hard this is for the migrant population. Production has ceased.

“Some of our women who had house-cleaning jobs were told to take a two-week break.

“There is a much, much higher rate of unemployment in the community and those who have kept their jobs still struggle because not all employers can afford to continue these payments as businesses have been shut,” she said.

The lack of a steady income and the ability to provide food has put this group within the population at an elevated level of vulnerability as Ramnarine says some face homelessness and starvation.

“Many of these people who may be homeless, many have landlords who already exploit them with high prices.

“The 16,500 who were able to register have no work and no work means having no food and no housing.

“This is unfortunately because many of these migrants were already working and barely getting by to pay rent and bills,” she said.

Grants and social measures

While many citizens of Trinidad and Tobago may face similar problems in light of a struggling economy, Ramnarine said citizens of this country are still able to access grants and social measures recently instituted by the Government such as rental assistance and food cards.

However, of the 50 families under the purview of LARMS, a steady supply of food remains a grave issue.

In the last few weeks, LARMS has been able to provide a few vouchers of $200 each for these families to access groceries.

While some generosity is still practised towards these families, Ramnarine said it has decreased significantly since T&T’s first recorded case of COVID-19.

“People are not giving as generously as they have before.

“Even with the average well-wisher, generosity has dried up. We are currently on a massive food drive to get people to give or donate something to eat, whether it be canned items or dry goods.”

Exploitation

She said Venezuelans who are already at the lower end of the economic spectrum are facing continued issues that place them at a higher social risk due to COVID-19.

“In the wider society this already marginalised population is at further risk now. Because of economic reasons, these individuals have to share closer living quarters, which may or may not affect community spread of this disease, as is likely in any group that may share close spaces.

“In addition to this, they are also at a greater risk of exploitation generally as in some workplaces we know of cases of injury which have not been addressed by employers.

“Some groceries pay Venezuelans under minimum wage. Many have no fixed income which poses challenges in the area of rent and food. It really is a little scary what we are going through right now,” she said.

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