The Trinidad & Tobago coast guard shot a boat this Sunday that carried illegal immigrants from Venezuela, wounding a young woman and killing her nine-month-old baby in the process. After journalists had denounced the shooting, Trinidad’s Coast guard confirmed the reports, claiming the coast guard was shooting was an act of self-defense. The shooting, however, has been heavily criticized by Venezuelan human rights activists and politicians.
This is not the first case of mistreatment and abuse from the Trinidad & Tobago government against fleeing Venezuelan migrants. Back in 2020, it was reported that dozens of kids were lost at sea after the authorities of the Caribbean island expelled them back to Venezuela in rickety, wooden ships, a dangerous decision as dozens of Venezuelans have also either died or gone missing trying to cross the straits over the last few years. Although the kids were eventually found sound and safe, the decision by Trinidad and Tobago has been used as an example of the treatment that the island’s authorities have given to illegal immigrants from Venezuelans.
Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard says it shot the boat in self-defense
According to the Trinidad government, the ship was intercepted by the Coast guard when trying to pass through the Venezuela-Trinidad border, the authorities said that the Coast guard tried to detain the boat, but the ship continued to evade. After a few unsuccessful attempts to stop the ship, the Coast Guard’s boat “fired at the engines of the suspect vessel in an attempt to bring it to a stop” after the ship had allegedly made some “aggressive maneuvers.”
After shooting and stopping the vessel, the Coast Guard found there were migrants inside it, although the statement does not specify how many, including one woman who held a baby in her arms, both of them with gunshot wounds. The Trinidad authorities treated and stabilized the woman, however, the baby died of his wounds. The statement further says that the remaining immigrants were detained and are being processed according to immigration and sanitary protocols.
Orlando Moreno, a human rights activist from the Venezuelan NGO Foro Penal, said that at least 20 people were trying to reach Trinidad through the sea and said that there were also other minors in the boat. Moreno lambasted Trinidad’s coast guard asking in a “what kind of people they are to shoot like that?”
David Smolansky, the Commissioner of the General Secretary of the OAS for the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis, also lamented the shooting, saying in a tweet that “an investigation must be opened to deliver justice. No more shootings, shipwrecks, and deportations.” As of today, there has been no announcement by the Trinidad & Tobago Government over any potential investigations over the fatal shooting.
According to a report made by Refugees International, Venezuelan migrants in the islands have been at the receiving end of both rampant xenophobia and inadequate treatment by the government, which has not provided a special status to Venezuelans like many countries in the region (including the United States) have done. The report also says that Venezuelans on the islands “often are forced to live in hiding” and that the estimated 440 Venezuelans who are in detention do not receive adequate access to legal services or medical care.
Venezuela’s migrant crisis is the second-largest in the world
The images of desperate Venezuelans trying to flee their country through dangerous routes is not exclusive to Trinidad & Tobago or the Colombian-Venezuelan border, since just a few weeks ago, it was reported that a small Venezuelan girl died while trying to cross the Rio Grande in the Mexican-American border.
The United States has been increasingly impacted by the Venezuelan refugee crisis, as Borer Patrol has reported that there were almost 51,000 encounters with Venezuelan migrants nationwide in FY2021, while the first three months of FY2022 saw almost 60,000 encounters with Venezuelan migrants across the country. As a response to this, the Biden administration has begun deportations of Venezuelans to Colombia and reportedly asked Mexico to apply stringent visa requirements for Venezuelans.
The Venezuelan migrant crisis has been growing in size and scope over the last five years. According to data from the UNHCR, there are an estimated 5.9 million Venezuelans that have left the country -almost 20% of the total population- making it the second-biggest refugee crisis in the world, only second to the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war.