ATTORNEYS representing 70 Venezuelans detained at the heliport in Chaguaramas for almost a month have filed a judicial review application which the High Courts have deemed urgent and a hearing has been set although the courts' are on its annual vacation break.
Emergency judge, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams approved the request for an urgent hearing of the complaint that 70 migrants were illegally kept at the heliport for 22 days, before that facility was officially deemed an immigration detention centre by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.
Attorneys said although the migrants have been issued deportation orders, there is no evidence of any arrangements for the potential claimants’ actual deportation. This, the lawyers contend, is tantamount to a penalty for illegal entry into TT.
The 70 were part of a larger group of almost 200 people held on July 9 at the Apex Bar along the Western Main Road in St James during a joint police/army operation.
A handful has been released by the High Court on the basis that their detention at the heliport was illegal since, at the time, this place had not yet been designated an immigration detention facility in accordance with the Immigration Act.
This was only done after attorneys for five of the migrants went to court for a writ of habeas corpus. The designation was made at midnight two Sundays ago by Hinds.
In a pre-action letter on Monday, the attorneys for the 70, from the firm Quantum Legal, called on the minister not to deport the group until their refugee status with the UNHCR is determined, and asked for the information Hinds used when he issued orders of deportation for the group on July 24.
The letter also demanded the 70 migrants' release by 3 pm on Wednesday, pending the determination of their application to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
The application for judicial review has been assigned to the docketed judge, Justice Ricky Rahim and will come up for a hearing on Friday.
Attorneys from Quantum Legal who are seeking the interests of the 70 are Blaine Sobrian, Criston J Williams and Shivanand Mohan.
On Tuesday, the group were said to have started a hunger strike as they complained about conditions at the heliport. There were videos circulating on social media of them calling for justice.
In the pre-action letter, the attorneys said from their instructions, the heliport was unfit for habitation or survival. They documented accounts given to them by detainees at the facility.
One woman, the lawyers said, was yet to receive medical care or treatment for a lump in her breast which causes her pain and discomfort. Another has said meals provided are stolen after being delivered to the heliport.
“Conditions at the heliport have worsened. No drinkable water is provided. The detainees have no alternative but to drink water from a pipe which is contaminated.
“The water that flows from this pipe is yellow or brown. The toilet is leaking water like a river. Food provided by the facility is spoilt. People are not getting food.”
The letter also said officials were telling detainees to bring their own cleaning supplies.
“The detainees would be fed peas and rice and bread and sardine, but they are spoilt. The detainees would get sick and suffer stomach pain after eating the food provided at the facilities.
“As a result, the detainees are reliant on food provided by their families. Although the families are delivering food at the heliport, they are not being received by the detainees.” The letter also said when they do receive the meals, the food is interfered with and items are removed.
“This food is being taken and/or interfered with… On occasions, food provided by families would be refused delivery and should family members persist in delivering the food, they would be threatened with detention and deportation.
“The families of the detainees would also provide their loved ones with toiletries such as soap, towels, and a change of clothing but they (the detainees) do not receive them because it is taken.”
The letter alleged that one particular official at the facility “treats detainees ‘very bad’.” It said they are cursed at and told they are “ nasty, stink and smell.”
Medication has also been taken away while those with other health ailments are not provided with treatment.
“The detainees are denied access to doctors and are told that there are no doctors at the heliport. No doctor comes to visit the facilities. There are eighty to over 100 persons crammed in one room.
“The bathroom is nauseating and filthy to the extent that it emits a pungent smell and when one stands in the toilet, one’s feet would get wet.
“Whenever the detainees complain to the officers, they are threatened. Women and men are housed together and so the women are forced to change their clothing in the presence of the other sex to their discomfort.
“There is no privacy, and the male detainees would watch the female detainees dress and undress. The blankets they are provided with for sleeping are dirty.”
The letter also noted that female detainees are not given menstrual care products, toilet paper or sanitiser unless their family provides them.
“Detainees are sick, suffering from coughing, scratching of skin, fever,” was the account given to the attorneys by their clients.