Assistance kits provide a lifeline to refugees and migrants in Trinidad and Tobago amid COVID-19 restrictions
Lucibel Mendoza waited patiently until it was her turn to receive one of the boxes being offered in Moruga, a small, rural town 93 kilometers away from Trinidad’s capital Port of Spain. Here, refugees and migrants like her had been struggling to get by alongside local communities after restrictions were put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. This box was a lifeline for many of them.
“I give you all a million thanks for your support for us. It's a blessing," she said as she walked out, carrying her box in her arms. "We all appreciate this," she added.
Lucibel left her native Venezuela with her young son and 80-year-old mother to reach Trinidad and Tobago in early 2020. She settled in Moruga, a village along Trinidad's southern coastline, determined to support the family, her son who stayed behind. Arriving in Trinidad and Tobago just as the COVID-19 pandemic began made that goal nearly impossible to attain.
"It has been challenging because I haven't been able to get a steady job. The little that I earn, I send it to him,” Lucibel said. Like her, many refugees and migrants from Venezuela come to Trinidad and Tobago fleeing rising insecurity and lack of access to basic items like medicine and food. Many are struggling alongside Trinbagonian nationals to find or keep steady employment during the pandemic.
Your support for us is a blessing
Trinidad and Tobago is estimated to host 30,800 Venezuelan refugees and migrants according to the R4V platform. They are part of the over 5 million Venezuelans who have left their homes in one of the largest displacement situations worldwide. Many have sought safety and a new beginning in nearby countries.
As Lucibel settled in Moruga, the community saw scarcity rise as movement restrictions were put in place and COVID-19 infections began to increase. "As it stands, their life is in limbo; they are between a rock and a hard place. They want to survive and be able to work," said the founder of the Poverty Reduction Centre, a local organization that reached out to R4V partners to request additional support for Moruga residents, as rising unemployment among locals and migrants had put greater demands on the center to provide relief.
Over 1,000 hygiene kits were delivered to both Venezuelans and host community members in extreme vulnerability. Boxes of essential sanitary items like toothpaste, deodorant, and laundry detergent, among other items, together with information on public services, helped them stay safe during the pandemic.
The hygiene kit distribution project was a collaborative effort that began in May 2020 between R4V partners, NGOs, community and faith-based organizations, and schools that identified people in their communities who needed support. The Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard helped during the distribution by enforcing COVID-19 protocols and managing the numbers of people in the venue.
Like Lucibel, many people in need who were able to receive short-term assistance through such distribution drives expressed their gratitude for the initiative, for helping to ease the strain they are experiencing during the pandemic.