THE STARTLING report that eight Venezuelan individuals housed at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) self-harmed in protest of the reputedly bad conditions there must be thoroughly investigated.
According to activist Yesenia Gonzalez, on Tuesday afternoon, eight men decided to protest, demanding better treatment by IDC officers, in addition to more food and water. Gonzalez said the inmates made their own weapons that were then used for self-mutilation. After cutting themselves on the leg, the prisoners waited to be taken for medical attention, but authorities reportedly decided to close the detention centre’s entrances and exits.
The Ministry of National Security must, as a matter of urgency, review the procedures in place at the IDC. Officials need to get a clear understanding of whether the reports that the inmates made weapons are true, and ascertain how this was possible. For the sake of inmates, as well as the general population, the centre should not be a place where such dangerous activity is possible.
Furthermore, it must be determined whether the official response to the reported incident was appropriate. Subsequent reports suggested half of the men were transferred in the hours after the event. It’s not clear if this will be enough to out the fire or simply spread it to yet another facility.
There is a substantial presence of Venezuelan nationals at the facility, according to Ministry of National Security data. In April 2018, the number of Venezuelans was put at 90, but that figure may have risen since in light of the amnesty exercise and subsequent enforcement of entry conditions.
There are concerns, generally, about the conditions at the IDC. That these protesters were willing to go to such extreme lengths to bring attention to them is not in itself a substantiation of those concerns. However, it is cause for disquiet that these individuals felt the need to take such drastic action and that internal lines of communication and feedback appear to have broken down to such a dramatic extent. If this is true, this does not bode well for the penal system as a whole, as well as for this country’s international reputation.
This country has taken a non-interventionist stance in relation to Venezuela, though our politicians are split on that matter along partisan lines. However, at the very least we must be able to assure the international community that we operate under the rule of law and have a proper respect for human rights. This means prison conditions must meet adequate standards.
The question, therefore, that begs itself is how can we ensure Venezuelan nationals are subject to proper treatment at facilities like the IDC, when even Trinidadians themselves bitterly complain about conditions behind bars? Whatever divides us in terms of geography, here at least is one thing on which Trinis and Venes seem to agree. Authorities must look into this sensitive matter and act appropriately.