JENSEN LA VENDE
The repatriation of 82 Venezuelans has come under scrutiny as the Ministry of National Security claims the group volunteered to return to their homeland while relatives are claiming they were forced to sign documents they did not fully understand.
According to a media release from the ministry, the 82 – 53 men and 29 women – were processed on Friday after visiting the Venezuelan Embassy in Port of Spain.
Sunday Newsday visited the embassy on Friday and saw some of the men being taken in to be processed. The presence of the Venezuelans at the embassy raised another issue, this time with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which claimed that 13 of the 82 Venezuelans were asylum-seekers and 19 others were in the process of becoming asylum-seekers.
According to the UNHCR, this breaches the Article 31 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), which instructs signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence” to people who are in need of international protection. UNHCR, in a statement, added that the mere presence of the Venezuelans at the embassy was a further breach as their request was no longer held in confidence.
“Additionally confidentiality is a well-established principle of refugee protection, requiring that information on persons in need of international protection should not be shared with their country of origin. The principles of non-penalisation, non-refoulement, and confidentiality are incorporated into the National Policy to Address Refugee and Asylum Matters in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, adopted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in 2014. This morning (yesterday), we sent a letter to the Chief Immigration Officer expressing our concern, requesting the release of the persons already registered with us and access to the rest to assess their needs of international protection,” UNHCR stated.
The ministry, in its release, said Venezuelan Ambassador Coromoto Godoy was at Piarco International Airport overseeing the deportation of the 82 Venezuelans. Godoy was also quoted as having spoken with Government and offered to have the detainees flown back home at an expense borne by the Venezuelan government. The 82 were being housed at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) having been sent there for various offences including illegal entry and post conviction for other criminal offences.
Sources told Sunday Newsday that some Venezuelans were arrested after they had applied for asylum and alleged their documentation was destroyed by officials before they were taken to the IDC.
UNHCR, in their statement, said, “The Government is saying people are returning voluntarily, but agreed procedures with UNHCR on the voluntary return of registered asylum-seekers are not being followed. For this to happen and relatives and friends of the concerned individuals are reporting that the persons are being forced to sign papers that they do not understand where they are saying they are returning voluntarily.”
The commission added that it is the responsibility of states not to expel or return a refugee to countries where his life or freedom would be threatened because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
The Venezuelan aircraft arrived in TT around 10 am and left around 6 pm. The arrangement to send them back came following weeks of meetings between Government and the Venezuelan Embassy.
Sunday Newsday was initially informed that the deportation of the 82 Venezuelans was done in exchange for three fishermen arrested by Guardia Nacional two weeks ago. Government sources vehemently denied that allegation.