More than 80 Venezuelans have died or disappeared in the Caribbean Sea in the past two months trying to flee their homeland, according to a report this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The IOM found three shipwrecks in the past two months as Venezuelan refugees attempted to flee the country towards the Caribbean.
The first two boats, both destined for Trinidad and Tobago, capsized on April 23 and May 16. It is estimated that between 51 and 67 refugees were aboard the two ships. The third ship, destined to the nearby island Curaçao, disappeared on June 8. At least 21 people are still missing, although that number could be as high as 32.
IOM spokesman Joel Millman denounced the rise in deaths of Venezuelan refugees. “Last year we counted 18 dead in the Caribbean,” said Millman. “At the end of this week, there were 143, a figure almost 10 times higher than the fatalities that we suffered last year.”
According to the testimonies of survivors and relatives of the missing Venezuelans, the voyages are organized by human traffickers who take advantage of people’s desperation to offer boat trips that are often overcrowded and fail to meet basic safety standards.
“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) deeply regrets the deaths and disappearances of so many Venezuelan nationals,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for Central America, North America, and the Caribbean. “These unfortunate incidents highlight the desperate measures Venezuelans are willing to take to reach their destinations, even risking their lives at the hands of smugglers.”
The most recent tragedy happened to a vessel that had fled Aguide, a town in Venezuela’s northern Falcón state.
“Considering that smuggling networks operate in cross-border settings, it becomes necessary that we all work in a coordinated manner. Cooperation between countries becomes essential for the provision of a comprehensive response,” Pisani explained. “Today, more than ever, there is a need for a regional perspective to combat smuggling in the case of the Venezuelan mixed flow. This is very well reflected also in a significant increase in migratory flows throughout the Caribbean.”
Over four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland in recent years in response to the worsening economic and humanitarian disaster inflicted by Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship, according to recent U.N. figures. The majority of Venezuelan refugees have fled to neighboring Latin American countries including Brazil and Colombia.
It is estimated that around 110,000 Venezuelans now reside throughout the Caribbean, with the most popular destination being the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. Polling data released last year found that a majority of Dominicans want bans and deportations for Venezuelans entering their country, mainly over fears they are undercutting wages and leading to an increase in prostitution and wider criminality.