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Trinidad and Tobago Catholics come to aid of Venezuelan refugees

Yesenia Gonzalez immigrated to Trinidad and Tobago, the twin island Caribbean nation, from Venezuela 40 years ago when she was 18. She has raised her children and set up a successful business here.

But in recent months, Gonzalez has been spending less time with her loved ones and more time fighting for the safety of thousands of fellow Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago due to the economic and political tumult in their home country.

This April, 82 Venezuelans were sent back to their country by Trinidad and Tobago officials. There have been other deportations in years past, but this one was significant because the Venezuelans were migrants seeking asylum or hoping to file for refugee status. Trinidad and Tobago’s government claimed they were held for various criminal offenses and said that the Venezuelans wanted to return home anyway.

Since then, Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago are afraid the same would happen to them. Efforts to speak with Venezuelans were mostly unsuccessful. Many are lying low as news of a “massive roundup” by officials spreads.

“I’ve been living in Trinidad 40 years, and I never experienced something like this, how they are prejudice(d), racial,” Gonzalez said. “Why is it a problem now?”

The exact number of Venezuelans fleeing to Trinidad and Tobago is hard to come by. Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Ghandi-Andrews said in April that 150 to 200 Venezuelans are entering the country every week. But that number doesn’t account for those being smuggled in or coming through different ports of entry. Ghandi-Andrews estimated that 60,000 Venezuelans had arrived between 2014 and 2016.

In the midst of the crackdown, Catholic Church leaders on the twin island are working to ensure Venezuelans receive compassion and a place to feel at home.

Following the April deportation, Archbishop of Port of Spain Charles Jason Gordon spoke out against the government’s treatment of Venezuelans and other migrants. He warned citizens against being “stingy” — and his new initiative is anything but.

This May, the archbishop announced that a Ministry for Refugees and Migrants would be established in every parish and ecclesial community on the twin island. The initiative is launching on Wednesday (June 20), World Refugee Day. It’s in keeping with the “Bridges of Solidarity” project promoted by Pope Francis and the Vatican for Venezuelan migrants.

 Fonte: Religion News


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