Smuggling migrants is not a criminal offence in TT and it is not covered in the Immigration Act, says Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews.
Gandhi-Andrews was speaking Wednesday to the media after a ceremony entitled “Presentation of Technical Assistance Documents on Smuggling of Migrants,” at the Ministry of National Security, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.
She said the Immigration Act only covers the illegal entry of a person, in which the illegal entrant is prosecuted, rather than the person who smuggles an individual into the country.
“What you have in effect is...the migrant coming in being prosecuted, which is a serious offence, because it carries with it a $50,000 fine and three years’ imprisonment.
“The Immigration Act speaks about aiding and abetting a person who breaches the law. “However, it is very difficult to prove if the migrant is not co-operating and giving information about the person who actually smuggled them into the country or who helped them break the law.”
Gandhi-Andrews said aiding and abetting also carries a penalty of $50,000 and three years’ imprisonment for the first offence, and for a subsequence offence the penalty is $100,000 and five years’ imprisonment.
She said recently someone was prosecuted for smuggling a migrant, and for the period January to date 70 per cent of migrants had entered the country with fraudulent documents.
On prosecuting those trying to smuggle in illegal immigrants, she said, “It is not that we never try it, but we won’t be able to get evidence to prosecute anyone for aiding and abetting someone.
The act does not directly deal with migrant smuggling.
Migrant-smuggling involves organised networks, because it starts in the person’s home country with someone approaching them or someone approaching some organisation to facilitate them in the smuggling enterprise.”
Gandhi-Andrews said in interviews with illegal migrants, immigration officers were told it cost from US$350-$10,000, depending on where the person is coming from or what means are used to smuggle a person.
She said smuggling migrants does not only happen by sea but through legal ports of entry with fraudulent documents.
“We have started to encounter a lot of illegal entry once again at the airport and other ports where people are presenting fraudulent documents – passport, visa, and other documents – to try to fool the immigration officer into admitting them into the country. This also carries a fine of $50,000 and three years’ imprisonment.
“So really the law punishes the migrant but not those facilitators, and those who are actually creating the documents or getting the documents for them, which they paid a lot of money.”