A HIGH Court judge wants to know if detained Nigerians, who entered the country illegally, are not entitled to consideration for their registration similar to what was afforded to Venezuelans in 2019.
Asking the question was Justice Carol Gobin, who held that the Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) had no power to detain or resume the detention of seven Nigerians in the event they get bail or when their criminal matter at the Arima magistrates' court comes to an end.
Gobin also declared that the deportation orders made by the CIO for Onekachi Emmanuel, Emmanuel Eke Jahbuike Onyeukwu, George Toriseju Ataine, Ugochukwu Onyebuchi Ezenagu, Isodore Chibuike Okafor, Chuwujekwu Okafor, Osunwa Prince Chimezie, and all the powers to detain them pending deportation, were null and void and of no effect.
In a written decision, Gobin addressed the registration exercise for Venezuelans, which granted amnesty to many who had entered TT illegally.
In June 2019, government implemented a policy to allow the registration of immigrants from neighbouring Venezuela including many people who, in breach of TT's immigration laws, had entered its borders illegally with entire families and had been working without permits for extended periods. The policy was stated to be justifiable on humanitarian grounds and this was laudable, she said.
"In the course of the proceedings, I did raise the issue as to whether the claimants should not be entitled to consideration for the same kind of treatment, especially in light of the length of time that had elapsed since they had first entered the country, albeit illegally (three to six years), and the extensive periods during which they had been deprived of their liberty.
"At the end of the day, they were, like our neighbours, simply seeking a better life. This was not a claim based on equality of treatment, but I considered it a relevant factor that the same benefit was not afforded to these claimants on the same humanitarian grounds."
The seven had illegally entered TT and were detained on different dates between January 2016 and July 2017. At the trial before Gobin, it was agreed that Emmanuel's case would be chosen as the test case, since the issues raised by the others were the same. In Emmanuel's case, an injunction had been granted the day before he was to leave TT to return to Nigeria on May 28, 2018.
A ticket had been bought and all the approvals obtained for his repatriation. The court recalled the matters of the six others to determine if their applications would result in a different outcome for them, but before that all seven Nigerians were involved in what the authorities called a "riot" at the IDC. They were all charged with criminal offences and remanded to the maximum security prison in Arouca. Gobin said their cases at the magistrates court have been routinely adjourned and, almost two years later, their cases have not yet started. However, she said the seven were no longer in the custody of the immigration division, so the deportation orders would serve no practical purpose.
"It may be that the CIO considers them to be suspended for the time being pending the criminal proceedings, but the mere existence of the criminal proceedings, whatever the practical effect on the actual custody of the claimants, does not permit the CIO to simply keep the deportation orders in abeyance," she said. Gobin pointed to the State's evidence of the high cost of deporting immigrants from the African continent. The last proposal for mass repatriation was in 2017, which was not approved, and since then, there has been no effect to deport any of the Nigerians, either mass or individually.
During the hearing, she also asked if there were any new plans for repatriation in light of the worsening economic situation since the start of the covid19 pandemic. She said while it was the State's position that the CIO was not in a position to deport the seven because they are in the custody of the prison, "I have concluded that there is little chance that even if the criminal cases were to collapse tomorrow, and the claimants were returned to the custody of the CIO, that deportation can be realistically achieved," as she voided the deportation orders for the seven.