Venezuelan nationals drop re-registration forms at the Immigration office Henry Street, Port-of-Spain earlier this month.

A survey of just under 1,000 Venezuelan migrants living in Trinidad and Tobago has found high levels of unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic leaving migrants more vulnerable to evictions and homelessness.

The survey, conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in it’s annual Displacement Tracking Matrix also found that Venezuelan migrants were being exploited for their labour.

Guardian Media spoke to IOM’s T&T head of office, Jewel Ali, who said the most critical finding from the DTM was the high level of unemployment. The DTM interviewed 950 migrants living in T&T by phone due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic.

“Prior, in 2019, we would have already known there was a high level of unemployment within the Venezuelan population and what we have seen in this study is that at least 68 per cent of persons who were unemployed who were interviewed, were unemployed because of COVID,” Ali said.

She said although this statistic was alarming, it did not come as a surprise.

“Many other NGO’s and international partners working on the Venezuelan response have seen increasing calls for very basic needs—we’re talking food and shelter and it makes sense from the fact that we see there are very high levels of unemployment and that was made worse by COVID-19.”

The DTM found the highest rated need of the respondents was food. It also noted, “A closer review of the interviewees’ food circumstances though, revealed that 41 per cent of them ‘skipped meals or ate less than usual’ during the seven days before the interview.”

Ali said the DTM also revealed a significant number of migrants interviewed had been exploited for their labour or knew someone who was exploited for labour.

The report states: “More specifically, it was discovered that 47 per cent of the respondents were aware of someone in their migrant community who worked without receiving the agreed upon payment and approximately 62 per cent of these incidents were reportedly in the construction sector.”

The report also stated 93 per cent of respondents working in the informal sector and 65 per cent of the respondents working in the formal sector had not signed contracts for employment nor had proof of payment for their services.

Fifty-four per cent of respondents working in the informal sector and 36 per cent working in the formal sector reported being paid less than minimum wage.

Ali said IOM only collected this data but it could be used by other agencies with the authority to act.

“This is certainly indications that needs to be investigated for possible exploitation—it is definitely pointing us in the direction because very often when we speak about exploitation, there is an overemphasis on sexual exploitation,” she said.

The report also stated Venezuelan children had reduced access to education.

“The data showed that 59 per cent of the children living with the respondents did not have access to education in Trinidad and Tobago and over half of the interviewees identified lack of documents and costs as the main reasons for this inaccessibility. There were four cases where ‘working’ was indicated as the reason for no access to education and one case of ‘early marriage/ pregnancy’.”

Eighty-four per cent of the respondents reported not accessing reproductive and sexual health services with one quarter of pregnant mothers not having access to prenatal access.

The report also found 59 per cent of respondents experienced xenophobia.