UN Human Rights Office 'deeply concerned' by treatment of migrant children

Venezuelan men and children make their way to shore after disembarking from a pirogue at Los Iros beach on Tuesday. They were among 16 children and nine adults who returned to Trinidad after being sent back to Venezuela in pirogues over the weekend. PHOTO BY LINCOLN HOLDER -
Venezuelan men and children make their way to shore after disembarking from a pirogue at Los Iros beach on Tuesday. They were among 16 children and nine adults who returned to Trinidad after being sent back to Venezuela in pirogues over the weekend. PHOTO BY LINCOLN HOLDER -

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is "deeply concerned" by the Trinidad and Tobago Government's decision to deport 16 Venezuelan children and nine adults, even as an application was being lodged against their removal in the courts.

In a statement on Wednesday, the OHCHR said all refugees and migrants, regardless of status, are entitled to the respect and protection of their human rights.

"With regard to refugee and migrant children, states have a special duty of care – the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them," the statement said.

On November 22, the migrant group, which had arrived in Trinidad on November 17, was put in two boats and escorted by the Coast Guard out of the country’s territorial waters towards the Venezuelan coast as the petitioners on their behalf awaited a ruling from Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams.

The judge ordered the State to return the group of Venezuelan children and women and produce them to the court at 1.30 pm on Monday, but the migrants had already been despatched by the Coast Guard.

On Monday, the High Court dismissed the application, as the Venezuelans were considered to be outside the country’s jurisdiction.

On Tuesday, the group landed once again on Los Iros beach and were taken to the Erin Police Station.

Attorneys on their behalf have filed legal proceedings in the High Court to prevent their deportation again.

The whereabouts of the group, which included children as young as four months, were reportedly unknown for 24 hours, the OHCHR noted.

"Children should never be forcibly deported based on their, or their parents' migration status," it said. "The precondition to any return involving a child is that an independent and impartial decision has been taken, involving child protection officials, and that a return is a sustainable solution that will ensure the rights, welfare and best interests of the child.

"State parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child must safeguard the rights of all children on their territory, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status. We therefore call on the TT authorities to safeguard the human rights of refugee and migrant children regardless of their status, including by ensuring access to due process and procedural safeguards, consistent with the principle of non-refoulement (forcing refugees to return to the place they are fleeing)."

Consistent with previous calls by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Network on Migration, the OHCHR urged governments to suspend all forced returns amid the covid9 pandemic to safeguard the health of migrants and communities and to instead provide safe and legal pathways for migrants, including children, to regularise their status and avoid the risk of deportation.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister criticised the UNHCR, accusing its personnel of exploiting these migrant crises "to inflate and sustain their own operational budget."

Sr Rowley asked, "Why do you think that our open registration netted 16,000 persons when the lines became empty after two weeks of registration yet the UNHCR personnel keep inflating the figure to 60,000 even as their own registration is 12,000? Is it that having provided comfort and legal registered status to the thousands of Venezuelans already here (many of whom came in illegally) that they now have the right to illegally import all their families, friends and trafficked customers into Trinidad and Tobago? The answer to this question is very simple and covered by existing laws including a visa system."

TT signed on to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention in November 2000 and the International Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1991, indicating its consent to be bound by the treaties.

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