Deportations stopped too late for 18 of 19 Venezuelans

Venezuelans, including 16 children, enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally on board a pirogue at Los Iros beach. - Lincoln Holder
Venezuelans, including 16 children, enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally on board a pirogue at Los Iros beach. - Lincoln Holder

EIGHTEEN of the 19 Venezuelans whose deportations were ordered to be stopped by a High Court judge on Saturday were sent back to their homeland the same day.

Newsday understands that the 18 were among a total of 180 who were sent back on Saturday on two Coast Guard vessels on two trips, which left at 9.44 am and 10.40 am. One man was transferred to prison, where he has to serve one month's simple imprisonment for illegally entering TT.

Newsday also understands that by the time Coast Guard officials received the order of Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams on Saturday, none of the Venezuelans were in Trinidad and Tobago’s territorial waters, and had already been handed over to Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional.

The matters, which were filed by attorneys Criston J Williams, Kerrina Samdeo and Jerome Riley, were expected to come up for hearing at 7.30 pm on Monday night before Quinlan-Williams who ordered the State to account for the Venezuelans who were all previously detained at the State’s quarantine facility at the heliport in Chaguaramas.

Since they are no longer in TT, and the State has responded to the court’s directive to say where they are, the substantive issues raised in the judicial review applications filed by the attorneys were transferred to Justice Devindra Rampersad on Monday. The State asked for an adjournment to Tuesday and the request was granted. It has also said the judge’s orders stopping the deportation of the 19 were served after they had already left TT’s jurisdiction.

Also on Monday, attorneys for the 26 Venezuelans who returned to Trinidad last week Tuesday, after they were “escorted” out of TT’s territorial waters two Sundays ago, filed individual applications which have been docketed to a series of judges. Hearing for one set of applications is expected to come up on Tuesday before Justice Frank Seepersad, while some have gone to Justice Carol Gobin and Justice Joan Charles.

Charles has been assigned the cases of three children – aged 11, 17 months and four months – who were unaccompanied on the pirogue. Those applications were heard at 8.30 pm on Monday.

Also Monday, the attorneys reappeared virtually before  Quinlan-Williams for two sets of Venezuelan families who were part of the group of 26. They are represented by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Nafeesa Mohammed, Dayadai Harripaul and Umesh Maharaj and were asking for access to their attorneys as well as for their families to bring supplies and toys while they serve their 14-day quarantine at the heliport facility.

The 26 Venezuelans were removed from the Erin police station and taken to the heliport last week.

At the hearing on Monday, Quinlan-Williams allowed the father of a four-year-old boy, the child’s mother and sister permission to take supplies and toys to the heliport. After their quarantine, they will be released into the custody of the father, who is a UNHCR asylum-seeker and has applied for a ministerial permit. That family has since been registered with the UNHCR and their deportation stayed until the case is determined.

In the case involving another family – a mother and her three children who received orders on Sunday preventing their removal from TT – the State has argued that nothing is stopping their deportations. Their matter is expected to come up again later this week.

On Sunday, attorneys were told that the 26 Venezuelans who came in on Tuesday were still at the facility and were not among the 160 deported on Saturday morning.

A release from the National Security Ministry on Saturday night announced the deportation of 160 Venezuelans. Since children are not "deported” it is not certain if the additional 20 listed by the Coast Guard were children.

The release reminded of the government’s “unprecedented humanitarian exercise” of a migrant registration exercise, in 2019, done out of concern for Venezuelans. The release said the result of this exercise was that 16,523 Venezuelans were registered and permitted to be legally in TT.

The release also mentioned the court matter involving the 19, saying the minister learned about it in a media report that an application had been filed and the judge made certain orders for “some Venezuelans who are in Trinidad and Tobago illegally.

“While the Government acknowledges that there may be personal views surrounding...illegal entry into TT...the Government, through the Ministry of National Security and other arms of the state, will continue to apply the laws and do all that it reasonably can to secure the borders and prevent illegal entry into TT. The measures being taken including the closure of our borders are to protect the health and safety of our citizens and those legally in TT,” the release said.

On Friday, immigration officials released 17 Venezuelans – 11 children and six adults, two of whom are in their 80s – from the state quarantine facility at Chaguaramas and earlier this week, ten children and four mothers were also ordered released from there.

They were placed on orders of supervision but attorneys for the State could not say why they were released.

Earlier last week, Charles released ten children and four mothers pending the hearing and determination of their cases.

The Venezuelans, in their separate court actions, are seeking immediate relief, ordering the chief immigration officer to put them on orders of supervision as well as quashing any order of deportation pending their applications with the Living Water Community for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for asylum-seeker status.

They are also challenging the failure of the Minister of National Security to make a decision to quash their orders of deportation in keeping with the national policy for refugees and asylum-seekers.

They also intend to ask for a declaration that the draft national policy to address refugees and asylum-seekers was illegal and irrational and contrary to the 1951 UN convention on the status of refugees and its 1967 protocols. They intend to argue that the failure to quash an order of deportation against them was ultra vires Article 33 of the Refugee Convention 1951, which prohibits the refoulment of refugees, and that the failure by the chief immigration officer to hold a special inquiry hearing was illegal.

Attorneys have asked for disclosure of any policy, written or unwritten, to address refugee/asylum matters in TT; any policy relating to the detention of those deemed vulnerable; and any declaration or notification by the Government that it has denounced the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

But, National Security Minister Stuart Young told Parliament on Friday there was a policy, but he could not disclose it, since it was subject to court action.


"Deportations stopped too late for 18 of 19 Venezuelans"

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