AG adamant: Citizens' right to return not absolute

Faris Al-Rawi -
Faris Al-Rawi -

This country’s immigration laws give citizens or residents the right to enter TT.

But the Immigration Act must be taken in the context of all the other laws, and in this instance, Public Health Ordinance Chapter 12 no 4.

In a brief phone interview with Newsday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said other legal considerations and other factors must be noted when looking at the issue of rights.

"We have, as of January 31, as a country, declared covid19 a dangerous infectious disease under (the) Public Health (Ordinance). The world, through the World Health Organization, has declared covid19 a global pandemic.

“Multiple countries have closed their borders to avoid spread."

The AG referred to the Public Health Ordinance gazetted on Saturday, under Section 105, that referred to the regulation issued by the Minister of Health as to the closures of all ports, including airports and seaports, except for cargo shipments by aircraft or sea vessels. By this gazetted regulation under the Public Heath Ordnance transporting passengers will not be allowed and crew members will not be allowed to disembark into TT, unless given clearance by the Minister of National Security.

The minister, Stuart Young, has repeatedly said there will be no exceptions to this rule.

“We are in a global pandemic and we (as a state) have declared covid19 a dangerous infectious disease. We have watched the rest of the world suffer massive casualties.

“So it is in those circumstances that this issue has happened,” the AG said.

TT closed its borders to both nationals and non-nationals as of midnight on March 22.

Thirty-five nationals, 34 of whom are retired nurses, who went on a cruise from Dubai to South Africa are now in Barbados, stranded, as no flights are allowed into this country.

In Margarita, an island under Venezuelan jurisdiction, 70 people are also unable to return to TT, as that country's president, Nicolas Maduro, declared a nationwide quarantine, including travel restrictions, last week.

Asked about a citizen's right to repatriation, Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, dean of the Faculty of Law at UWI St Augustine, said it's a balance, because while these citizens do have rights, any right is balanced against the public interest.

"In any constitution, no freedom is absolute."

While she noted she did not know the specifics of either case, she said the government can make a decision to abrogate rights as reasonably required, for example, for safety and security. "A court will have to consider the reasonableness of the request, what can be done, the difficulty, and even what other countries might have done and does it justify that kind of action."


"AG adamant: Citizens’ right to return not absolute"

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