Venezuela nationals

Heading home: An official from the Venezuelan Embassy issues travel documents to Venezuela nationals at Piarco International Airport yesterday before their repatriation flight. —Photo: CURTIS CHASE

The Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs was able to secure from the United States government in writing a commitment that the repatriation flight with 100 Venezuelans on a Venezuelan aircraft would not attract US sanctions.

In view of this, Young said he signed off on the approval for the aircraft to enter Trinidad and Tobago to take the Venezuelans back home at 6 p.m. yesterday.

Young stressed there was “no stumbling” in the manner in which the Government handled this issue.

He was responding to an urgent question from Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein in Parliament yesterday.

Young said when the government of Venezuela, through normal appropriate diplomatic channels (diplomatic note), indicated there were a number of their nationals they wished to repatriate, the information was sent to the Ministry of National Security and was, in turn, transmitted to the necessary bodies, including the Civil Aviation Authority of T&T.

He said on Wednesday the Authority red-flagged the aircraft that was to be used by the Venezuelan government, informing that it fell into the band of sanctioned aircraft by the US government.

As soon as this information was brought to his attention, it was conveyed to the Venezuela government, which was told that in those circumstances, the T&T Government could not grant permission for the sanctioned aircraft to enter this country.

Normal diplomatic channels

Young said, however, “due to the nature of this exercise which was a mercy, humanitarian exercise arranged by the Venezuelan government..., we went a step further... and I immediately reached out to the US Embassy personnel and had a conversation with them, telling them that we believed that in these circumstances and (given) the ­humanitarian nature of this exercise, we would like to know what was their position in ­relation to sanctions, the aircraft being one of those that fell into the sanctioned list,” Young ­stated.

He said the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs was also working with National Security, and that ministry was able to secure from the US in writing that this particular exercise would not attract sanctions.

He said immediately this information was provided to the Venezuelan government, and just before coming to Parliament he signed the approval for a flight in order for the Venezuelans to depart at 6 p.m.

In response to a question from Hosein, who pointed out that this aircraft had been sanctioned since last March, Young said there was absolutely nothing different that the Government, acting within the normal diplomatic channels, could have done in addressing this matter.

On Immigration

In response to an urgent question, Young said ten Immigration officers had tested positive for Covid-19 “at this stage and that number may rise”.

He said although 39 officers were in quarantine, there was no shortage of immigration officers at the airport.

He said due to the pandemic, ­Piarco airport has not had the levels of traffic of travellers coming and going as it once did, and therefore did not require a full complement of ­officers.

He said normally 90 persons are assigned as Immigration officers to Piarco, working a number of shifts. He said out of this 90, there were 51 officers who are still available and are working five shifts at ten officers per shift.

Young said a decision had been taken not to have a rotation of staff from March 1, as would normally happen, which involves the bringing of staff from other areas of Immigration to do shifts at Piarco—in light of the positive testing of a number of Immigration officers.

Asked by Hosein whether there is sufficient PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), Young assured all Immigration officers were provided with adequate PPE for the period January 4 to February 24 of his year.

The following stock was sent—1,000 gloves, 210 surgical masks (the officers had previously been given three cloth masks each), 140 bottles of hand sanitiser (250 ml), 40 bottles (500 ml) of sanitiser and 20 spray cans of disinfectant.

In addition, the Airports Authority of T&T sanitises the common areas at the ­airport, Young said.