At least 16 Venezuelan children found themselves lost at sea for over 24 hours on Tuesday when authorities in Trinidad and Tobago expelled them from the island’s shores after they arrived without the necessary permits, according to members of the country’s opposition.
The precarious situation was confirmed by the commissioner for foreign relations for Venezuela’s internationally recognized government, Julio Borges, who claimed that the decision of Trinidadian authorities violated international law.
“We reject the deportation of 16 Venezuelan children by Trinidad and Tobago, it is an act that not only violates the Convention on the Status of Refugees, but also all international mechanisms that protect children,” Borges wrote on Twitter.
“We urge the United Nations Human Rights Council and International Organization for Migration to intervene in this situation,” he continued. “It is a cruel fact that does not reflect a spirit of brotherhood that Venezuelans had with all those who came to our land in the last century.”
Instamos a ACNUR y la OIM a interceder ante esta situación. Es un hecho cruel, que no refleja un espíritu de hermandad que tuvimos los venezolanos con todos los que llegaron a nuestra tierra en el siglo pasado.
— Julio Borges (@JulioBorges) November 23, 2020
The group of refugees also included adults. Among the children, however, the youngest is believed to be four years old.
David Smolansky, who serves as President Juan Guaidó’s representative for migration and refugees before the Organization of American States, said on Monday that the children were missing at sea.
“A Supreme Court judge ordered the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force to return the deported Venezuelan children to the island,” he wrote. “Since yesterday we do not know the whereabouts of these 16 children. They don’t have much food or fuel in their boats.”
Un juez de la Corte Suprema ordenó a la Fuerza de Defensa de Trinidad y Tobago que devuelva a la isla a los niños venezolanos que fueron deportados.
Desde ayer desconocemos el paradero de estos 16 niños. No tienen mucho alimentos ni combustible en los peñeros#DóndeEstánLos16
— David Smolansky (@dsmolansky) November 23, 2020
According to Smolansky, the country’s authorities also ignored a writ of habeas corpus defending the rights of children, pointing out that they “ratified the American Convention on Human Rights and the 1951 Convention on Refugees … [designed to] protect migrants and refugees against refoulement.”
“Many Trinidadians emigrated to Venezuela for decades in search of work and study to overcome the poverty they suffered on their island,” he argued. “They were received with open arms. There is not the same treatment for the 40,000 Venezuelan refugees who have fled to that island because of [Nicolas Maduro’s] dictatorship.”
On Tuesday evening, Smolansky uploaded footage proving that the children and other migrants were still alive and called on the island’s authorities to reconsider their decision.
“URGENT: This is the first proof of life we have obtained from the 16 children and all the deported people,” he wrote, alongside footage of the migrants. “They are approaching Trinidad and Tobago. The island’s authorities must protect them and guarantee the reunification of their families.”
#URGENTE Esta es la primera fe de vida que obtenemos de los 16 niños y todas las personas deportadas. Se están aproximando a Trinidad y Tobago. Las autoridades de la isla deben darle protección y garantizar la reunificación de la familia.
¡Hacerse eco de esto, por favor! pic.twitter.com/nzwQ1o0sIo
— David Smolansky (@dsmolansky) November 24, 2020
Such reports of Venezuelan migrants missing at sea have become increasingly common over the past decade as millions of people have fled the country in desperation. Last year, the IOM revealed that at least 80 Venezuelans have died or disappeared in the Caribbean Sea over the space as they attempted to reach various destinations including Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, and Aruba.
According to the testimony of survivors and relatives of the missing Venezuelans, the journeys are usually 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.