With the growing perception that Venezuelans are responsible for T&T's second wave of COVID-19 spread, human rights activists say landlords are now evicting migrants over the fear of prosecution by the State.
As a result, TTV Solidarity Network director Heidi Diquez is calling on Government to end the persecution of Venezuelan migrants, whom she said are now fearing their lives.
Diquez yesterday said she was currently dealing with one migrant family whose landlord had changed his mind on renting them an apartment following National Security Minister Stuart Young's statements last Saturday.
Msgr Christian Perreira, who has been helping migrants at the St Benedict RC Church in La Romaine, also shared concerns, saying there is increased xenophobia against migrants after the Government suggested the virus returned to T&T through illegal migrants.
Both Diquez and Perreira claimed police are also rounding up migrants, including those who registered with the amnesty programme last year.
"They are afraid for their lives, afraid to get detained. Even those with their refugee cards are getting detained. Police are coming in their homes with no protection and under what grounds? This wave of xenophobia could end very negatively on the Venezuela situation," Diquez told Guardian Media yesterday.
She said the growing xenophobia stemmed from Young's warning last weekend that any citizen who harbours or facilitates the entry of illegal immigrants into T&T will be arrested and charged. Landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and business owners who allow foreigners to disembark cargo ships face the same fate. Young also warned registered migrants that their migrant cards would be revoked and they would be deported if they assist others in entering illegally.
Diquez said as migrants attempt to build a life away from the socio-economic and political crisis in Venezuela, some have brought in their children over time. She commended the Government for finally seeking to protect the borders, noting Venezuelans needed that protection as well because of smugglers. However, she questioned whether the State is persecuting migrants because of alleged involvement in human trafficking or proof that they have COVID-19.
"We advised the ministry through many means that there are many international agencies with the resources that are willing to help. The ministry knew about the migration ever since, but to come now to persecute those who are in Trinidad already is another story," she said.
"The police are going to houses at midnight and during the day, terrifying kids because of alleged reports. They are creating a lot of xenophobia and we have seen videos of police detaining Venezuelan, allegedly with COVID, and not wearing masks. Are you doing this for COVID-19 or do you think they are involved in human trafficking? The minister needs to come clean."
Perreira meanwhile rubbished claims that Venezuelans were responsible for the new COVID-19 wave, saying that of the 150-plus confirmed cases, none are Venezuelans. He said there is the only suspicion that a taxi driver, who is a confirmed COVID-19 case, had transported migrants. And while some say migrants are committing money laundering and human trafficking, Perreira said this long existed in T&T and governments cannot arrest these perpetrators, as some are party financiers. He said smugglers and pimps duped many migrants into coming to T&T with the promise of good jobs. Instead, he said these criminals steal young women's passports and force them into slavery and prostitution.
"The people's lives are under threat that they have to be hiding in the La Romaine area. I know a family in hiding right now because they do not know when a police gang will come to round up people," Pereira said.
"The police and immigration officers are taking those who have registration cards or not. I know a few people with valid cards and they sent them back. The police said they do not care about that."
He said just like there are criminals in T&T, it is the same in other parts of the world and if the police know who they are they should take action. But he said as for law-abiding migrants who are just working to provide for their families back home, the country should have a heart.
"Many are decent human beings seeking a better way of life. They did not come here because they want to but because they want something better for themselves and their families," Pereira said.
Perreira called on the Government to leave migrants who are trying to make a better life for themselves and families and focus on the real criminals and big fishes.