UNHCR: Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago still vulnerable to abuse

File photo: Venezuelans gather at Irwin Park Sport Complex in Siparia, south Trinidad on Tuesday May 28, 2018. People don't choose to be refugees; only dire circumstances would force someone to leave his or her home and, sometimes, family. Photo by Chequana Wheeler
File photo: Venezuelans gather at Irwin Park Sport Complex in Siparia, south Trinidad on Tuesday May 28, 2018. People don't choose to be refugees; only dire circumstances would force someone to leave his or her home and, sometimes, family. Photo by Chequana Wheeler

THE UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says refugees and asylum-seekers in TT continue to be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and experience a host of problems.

Last week, the National Security Ministry's Counter Trafficking Unit revealed police were investigating claims of abuse made by a Venezuelan woman who had been detained at the Chaguaramas Heliport. She went missing after an alleged incident of sexual assault by members of the Coast Guard, which monitors the facility.

The woman has since been found at a Chaguanas bar on May 26 and was then sent to the Immigration Detention Centre, then into the care of the Counter Trafficking Unit.

Police have said that an initial investigation of the allegations turned up no signs of sexual abuse at the heliport.

Police assured that migrants were given safeguards such as privacy to be able to talk freely to police investigators without fear of victimisation by those guarding them.

Asked if the UNHCR had any power to intervene, it told Newsday by e-mail that it did not share confidential information about individual cases with third parties.

However, it added, “In TT, refugees and asylum-seekers face several challenges, remaining vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Most of them cannot regularise their immigration status, enroll in formal educational institutions, access medical care and work legally.

"Each country has the right to rule on migration regulations and border management. However, the detention of persons in need of international protection should only be a measure of last resort."

It continued, "Where unavoidable, governments must ensure unimpeded access to legal aid and counselling."

The UNHCR said it was willing to help governments identify protection needs among detainees, "as well as to help set up reception mechanisms that provide alternatives to detention for refugees and migrants.”

Recently, RC Archbishop Jason Gordon said there was "more than enough" room in denominational schools to accommodate registered Venezuelan children.

He said the Catholic Board was fully prepared to begin receiving such children but nothing could be done until the relevant state authorities grant approvals.

Comments

"UNHCR: Refugees in Trinidad and Tobago still vulnerable to abuse"

More in this section