CARACAS/PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) – At least 29 Venezuelan migrants, including 16 minors, returned to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday after being deported from the island over the weekend and spending hours at sea, said their relatives, who had been concerned about their whereabouts.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled the once-prosperous OPEC nation as a humanitarian crisis intensified in recent years. Around 40,000 have settled in the neighboring dual-island nations, and dozens have gone missing since vessels they boarded in attempts to get to Trinidad sunk.
Trinidadian authorities deported the group of 29 in two small boats on Sunday, but a judge in Trinidad later ordered their return to the island. Concern about the migrants’ whereabouts grew steadily on Monday when they did not arrive on eastern Venezuelan shores as expected.
Felix Marcano, a Venezuelan migrant in Trinidad whose wife and two children were among the deportees, said his relatives were hungry and dehydrated after the long journey.
“Where were they going to get food?” Marcano told Reuters over the phone from Trinidad, adding that his wife had attempted to come to Trinidad in search of medicine for their children, which is scarce in Venezuela.
Yesenia Gonzalez, an activist for Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad, confirmed that the group had returned to the island.
Trinidad and Tobago’s national security minister, Stuart Young, told reporters that a group of Venezuelan migrants who had entered the country “illegally” were apprehended by police, handed over to the coast guard, and deported over the weekend before the court order.
“We have been detaining people, we are deporting people, we are escorting people back across the border,” Young said, noting that the country’s borders were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Trinidad’s handling of the case has drawn criticism from Venezuela’s opposition and migrants’ rights activists.
(Reporting by Sarah Kinosian in Caracas, Maria Ramirez in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, and Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain; Editing by Marguerita Choy)