Curacao coastguard rescues Venezuelans fleeing crisis

People sit as they wait after being rescued by coastguards in Willemstad, Curacao, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Umpi Welvaart

WILLEMSTAD/CARACAS (Reuters) - Coastguards from the Caribbean island of Curacao rescued 26 Venezuelans stranded on nearby Little Curacao on Friday, in the latest case of migrants fleeing an economic and social crisis at home.

As millions of Venezuelans suffer food shortages, medicine scarcity, political turmoil and soaring crime, some are leaving to nearby islands and bordering countries.

Traffickers brought the 18 men, seven women and one teenager to mainland Curacao, coastguard spokesman Roderick Gouverneur said in an interview. Little Curacao is a tiny tourist island about 30 kilometers southeast of Curacao.

They were hungry and dehydrated, with some showing cuts on their hands and feet, he added. “Many times they say that the situation is alarming in Venezuela, that they do not have food, that they come for a better life.”

Since January, Curacao has detained at least 100 Venezuelans trying to enter by sea. Most are normally deported.

Migrants pay fishermen to transport them to Curacao, as well as neighboring Aruba, because of their proximity to Venezuela.

To avoid detection, passengers often disembark a few meters from land to swim the last leg, witnesses have said.

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has been facing weeks of nationwide unrest, as hundreds of thousands take to the streets angry at his government’s management of the economy.

Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Richard Chang