UNHCR concerned over court ruling on refugees, asylum-seekers

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 Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is expressing concern over the implications after a recent ruling by High Court judge Frank Seepersad on the status of migrants and asylum-seekers.

The agency, in a press release on Monday, said it takes note of the judgment of the High Court in a case brought by a refugee recognised by UNHCR, who is seeking asylum and international protection in this country.

A week ago, Seepersad ruled on a judicial review and constitutional claim by Venezuelan national Yohan Jesus Rangel Dominguez – who challenged a deportation order the Ministry of National Security issued in March.

The judge said obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the principles of non-refoulement do not apply to TT, as they were not incorporated in domestic law.

This ruling paves the way for any migrant, refugee or asylum-seeker to be immediately deported if they are deemed to have infringed any local laws.

The UNHCR said it is concerned about the implications of this ruling for all asylum-seekers and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago and is appealing to the Government to ensure their protection from forced deportation.

"The UNHCR is not a claimant in the court proceedings but intervened as a third party because of its mandate to supervise the application of the 1951 Refugee Convention worldwide, a responsibility which was conferred on it by the UN General Assembly," the release said.

The agency said it welcomed observations by Justice Seepersad about the urgent need for a legislative response, and on the incorporation and integration of migrants into TT's society and its workforce, as this approach can be to the economic benefit of this country.

The agency said it is ready to support government in developing such a system, as it does in other countries.

The UNHCR's release came the day after director of NGO La Casita de Arima, Andreina Briceno-Brown, expressed similar concerns over the ruling and its implications for the welfare of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Among these, she said, are the vulnerable Warao women, children and other indigenous communities living in TT. She too called for the law to be updated to protect the basic human rights of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

The UNHCR estimates there are 25,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in TT as of April.

Over the weekend, according to reports, over 200 undocumented migrants were detained during a police raid in St James.

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