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Monday 25 March 2019
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Immigration Chief: Detention halted, numbers a ‘headache’

 PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB.
PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB.

ACTING Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews says the Immigration Division has halted exercises to detain illegal immigrants owing to the increasing numbers of people entering the country illegally and a lack of capacity at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC).

“We have a very small detention centre compared to the number of issues and the number of persons that we find in breach of the Immigration Act,” she told a Joint Select Committee meeting with the Immigration Division and Vision on Mission yesterday at the Parliament building, Port of Spain.

She said an exercise to net illegal immigrants could result in 500 people, but these have been put on hold. The IDC currently held 110 males and 36 females and Gandhi-Andrews said 150 is capacity but can go to 200, though that would be in cramped conditions. She said this is why 2,000 people were on order of supervision, but some simply do not return.

She added that the Immigration Division has avoided as far as possible to avoid putting detainees in prison and at times has resorted to using the Eastern Correction Facility when there were a lot of people who could not yet be released.

“So it is going to escalate. We find that more and more persons are coming into the country and breaching the terms and conditions of their landing certificate, remaining in the country illegally. More and more you see persons entering the country illegally without documentation. And that is providing a significant headache for us, because there is nowhere to keep them.” She said the police have helped by keeping detainees at stations until they can be identified and get a security deposit.

Immigration Officer IV Gewan Harricoo said the length of detention at the IDC ranges from days to a year or more. Immigration Officer IV at the Immigration Detention Centre Sherwin Johnson said the detainee at IDC the longest was a Nigerian who has been there since January 2015 because he had matters before the court.

Gandhi-Andrews said people are on orders of supervision for as long as three years because they have matters before the court and cannot be deported when the matter is ongoing. She added the division planned to engage the Director of Public Prosecutions on the issue.

She also said the division was short of 35 immigration officers and for the past two years has requested staff from the Service Commission. Harricoo said in some instances families are found and there are a lot of unaccompanied minors. In some cases the division partners with the Children’s Authority but in three recent cases, he said, the court had placed the children in the care of the Chief Immigration Officer.

Gandhi-Andrews said this was “very troubling” to her as the only place she has to house the minors is the IDC. She added at times the division tries to partner with NGOs willing to take the minors, who are about 16 or 17 years. “But there are times when they simply can’t. And when we can’t find anywhere to place the child at any given time, we do not have a choice but to put them at the Detention Centre on a temporary basis until we find a family that is willing to keep them...while we make arrangements to send them home.”

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