Trinidad and Tobago said it would crack down on those trafficking migrants from Venezuela, after mass migration of millions followed humanitarian crisis in the country
By Linda Hutchinson-Jafar
PORT OF SPAIN, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Trinidad and Tobago said on Thursday it would impose stiffer penalties on those trafficking migrants from neighboring Venezuela, days after a Venezuelan boat headed to the Caribbean twin-island nation sank, killing at least 28 people.
A humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has spurred the mass migration of millions, including to Trinidad and Tobago, where at least 40,000 Venezuelans now live, while dozens have gone missing since vessels they boarded to get there sunk.
Prime Minister Keith Rowley said it had more fleeing Venezuelans than any other nation "per square kilometer and per capita" and there would be "new and firmer laws for persons who encourage illegal trade and stiffer penalties for human trafficking".
His announcement came the same day Venezuela's Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab said two people had been arrested in relation to the shipwreck last weekend off the eastern Venezuelan coast: the owners of the boat and the property from which it embarked.
Arrest warrants have also been issued for seven national guard officers who had extorted the equivalent of $4,500 from the owner of the boat in exchange for overlooking his trafficking business, Saab said in televised comments.
Authorities updated the death toll from the boat wreck to at least 28 from an initial 14, he said.
Rowley said there would be no mass deportation of Venezuelans early next year. His government planned to extend the legal registration of over 16,500 for another six months when it expires at the end of the year, he said.
Yet Venezuelans who have been responsible for bringing illegal migrants into the Caribbean country "will be at the head of the line to go back home", he said.
(Reporting by Linda Hutchinson-Jafar in Port of Spain; Additional Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Christopher Cushing)