DCP (Ag) Operations Jayson Forde at yesterday’s T&T Police Service media briefing.

Rhondor Dowlat-Rostant

Members of the T&T Coast Guard are now raising concern over the influx of illegal immigrants into T&T, mostly from Venezuela, saying they are posing a major health risk in coastal communities and for officers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The concern came even as 32 Venezuelans and a Trinidadian were held in Carenage during a joint exercise between the police and the TTCG on Saturday.

A TTPS release said around 4.36 pm Coast Guard officers spotted a pirogue near the Third Boca, Chaguaramas, chased the vessel and intercepted it near Chacachacare Islands. Two people had already jumped into the sea and swam ashore where they escaped. The 32 immigrants were taken to Staubles Bay, medically examined and transported to the Chaguaramas Heliport to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Yesterday, a TTCG officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said from June to last weekend they detained close to 200 Venezuelan nationals, including women and children.

“Having these people here are too risky for us because we are the ones that have to take their vitals every morning and our lives are at more risk too and they keep coming in by the large numbers on boats, some of which go undetected and when they make landfall they spread out throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Community spread en mass I feel is inevitable now,” the officer said.

Speaking during yesterday’s TTPS media briefing, DCP Operations Jayson Forde said apart from the Carenage exercise they also detained eight and 46 Venezuelan nationals at Las Cuevas and in the Western Division respectively. He said all the immigrants are currently being interviewed before charges are laid. Forde said those who entered T&T illegally will be deported either at the end of their quarantine or after they serve any jail time if charged with a crime. He said those who may be legally in T&T could also lose their permit cards if they are found to have facilitated human trafficking or been involved in any other illegal activity.

Last week, National Security Minister Stuart Young initiated an investigation into reports that Venezuelans were docking at Chaguaramas and coming on land despite the border lockdown. This came after a businessman did a Facebook live showing at least six Venezuelan fishing vessels docked in Chaguaramas. The businessman claimed the Venezuelans on the vessels were seen on land venturing into supermarkets and other public places and expressed concerns over the possible spread of COVID-19.

Contacted yesterday on the issue, Young said he reminded the Immigration Division and port health authorities that no one is supposed to disembark fishing vessels.

“I have asked that the authorities to carry out the necessary investigations and I am awaiting the outcome of these investigations,” Young said.

“Approval has not been granted for persons to disembark these fishing vessels. I remind the Trinidadian businessmen who may be permitting this breach to occur that they may be subject to criminal charges and that they are putting us, the population, at risk.”

Contacted for comment, a senior Customs official confirmed that docking of Venezuelan boats at Chaguaramas continues to be allowed.

“They were always allowed to come to bring fish,” the source said.

Asked why the Venezuelans were being allowed to dock when the ports at Cedros and King’s Wharf were closed to this activity, the official said, “Because the borders were never closed for cargo.”

He noted, however, that the Venezuelans are not allowed to leave their vessels or mingle when offloading their fish cargo.

Anyone who has information on suspected illegal immigrants is asked to call the police at 555, 999, 800 TIPS or 482 GARY.

Sgt (Ag) Adams is continuing investigations.