GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 21 Venezuelans were missing after their boat sank on the way to the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday, citing information from that country’s coast guard.
The boat, the “Jhonnaly Jose”, was carrying at least 25 people from the Venezuelan coastal town of Guiria when it capsized in the early hours of Wednesday, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva.
“This tragic incident highlights the extreme risks of sea journeys and other irregular cross-border movements undertaken by refugees and migrants. It also underscores the desperation of those forced to flee their homes and the extraordinary difficulties faced on their journey,” he said.
The UNHCR says more than three million Venezuelans have fled the South American country since 2014 due to widespread shortages of food and medicine and deteriorating law and order.
Four of the 25 aboard the boat were rescued by the Trinidad and Tobago coast guard after a search and rescue effort carried out jointly with Venezuelan counterparts, and then taken back to Venezuela, Baloch said.
Trinidad and Tobago is situated about 70 km (45 miles) off Venezuela’s northern coast.
Venezuela plunged into deeper political crisis in January when Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled congress, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was not legitimate.
Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Mark Heinrich