Returned migrant: CoP must probe National Security Minister

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds. - File photo/Roger Jacob
National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds. - File photo/Roger Jacob

Five days after Venezuelan migrant Juan Manuel Acosta was deported, he returned to Trinidad and Tobago. One of his lawyers, Blaine Sobrian, is now calling on the Commissioner of Police to investigate National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds for crimes against humanity for signing Acosta's deportation order.

In a 51-page legal letter to CoP Erla Harewood-Christopher, Sobrian, from the firm Quantum Legal, said Acosta was deported on August 12.

"Our client instructs that his deportation was wholly and utterly improper and illegal, contravening and/or bypassing several mandatory provisions of the Immigration Act. We now gravely fear that the circumstances surrounding our client’s deportation may not have been an isolated incident but that our other clients may have suffered an identical experience."

The letter says he "re-entered" the country despite the deportation order, but gave no details of how Acosta was able to do so.

Earlier on Wednesday a series of messages began circulating on social media, from someone claiming to be assisting Acosta.

"Good morning, resettled refugee Juan Manuel Acosta expelled from Trinidad on August 13 2023. He has returned to TT because his life, physical integrity and security were in danger in Venezuela, just as it is more than ever in TT..."

The message also says Acosta tried to contact various agencies in TT to assist him in resettling in the US.

In Sobrian's letter to Harewood-Christopher, Acosta's surrender to the authorities is mentioned.

The firm said Acosta was approved for resettlement in the US through the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"In recognition of our duty to the State and the administration of justice, we have advised our client to surrender himself to the TT Police Service. He is willing to avail himself to your good self and seeks your protection as a witness and as a witness in fear."

Sobrian said Acosta wanted to file a report against Hinds, the Immigration Division and its personnel for "offences contrary to Section 41(1) and 42(1) of the Immigration Act."

The claim says the proper procedure was not followed before Acosta was served with a deportation order.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), when asylum-seekers are detained under a detention order, a special inquiry must follow.

"A special inquiry is a hearing conducted by a special inquiry officer to determine whether you should be granted voluntary repatriation or deportation. If you are seeking asylum, you are encouraged to state this at the beginning of the hearing," the UNHCR says on its website.

Sobrian said this was not done in Acosta's case.

"The examination, if it warrants such a description, was superficial in that our client was allegedly only asked two (2) questions: (a) whether he worked in Trinidad; and (b) whether he had entered the country illegally.

"Thereafter our client received a Form 19B order of deportation signed by the minister and dated 23 July 2023.

"Our client did not appear before a special inquiry officer for an inquiry or any under any other setting, nor was he in receipt of a Form 26 order to show cause and notice of hearing in deportation proceedings.

"Our client possessed no knowledge of a decision having been made by the special inquiry officer in respect of deportation proceedings nor was he in receipt of a written decision to suggest that any such deportation proceedings were held."

Sobrian said Acosta claims he was made to sign the deportation order under threat of imprisonment.

"These alleged threats were translated to him by a translator allegedly of the Immigration Division. Our client was against subjective fear because of being placed in ‘The Heliport,’ Chaguaramas."

Referring to Acosta's alleged resettlement by the IOM, Sobrian said TT receives funding "specifically to manage Venezuelan migration."

The letter also includes a screenshot of a report by USAID showing the amount of money TT receives.

"It is apparent that the Government of the Republic of TT is attempting to, metaphorically speaking, have its cake and eat it too, as on one hand it receives...said funds earmarked for a specific purpose but then on the other hand, it expels the Venezuelan migrants, in complicity with the Venezuelan dictatorship."

Sobrian said Acosta's case may be one of several where Venezuelan nationals were "deprived" of due process.

He said if Acosta's claims are true there may be breaches of the law.

On  Hinds, Sobrian cited Section 10 (1) of the International Criminal Court Act (ICCA). The act "recognises crimes against humanity committed" in TT or elsewhere as indictable offences.

"For the purpose of the act, the offence of crime against humanity is satisfied by such acts including, inter-alia, the deportation or forcible transfer of a population or the imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, when committed as part of a widespread or systemic attack directed against any civil population, with knowledge of the attack."

"By our estimation, the minister has committed crimes against humanity pursuant to Section 10 of the ICCA. Appropriately, you are called upon to investigate the minister for such offences under the ICCA."

Sobrian called on Harewood-Christopher to "order, co-ordinate and oversee" investigations into Hinds's actions for breaches of the Immigration Act and the ICCA.

"It is expected that you will prepare or cause the preparation of a comprehensive brief or report detailing the investigative operations employed and the findings of the investigations. Should it be found that there have been criminal breaches of the Immigration Act by the minister, the Chief Immigration Officer and/or their servants and personnel, or you have reasonable cause to detect same, you are required to take such steps as necessary to ensure the strict adherence to the Immigration Act."

Sobrian also wants Harewood-Christopher to facilitate Acosta's surrender and state what charges, if any, will be preferred against him. The letter also seeks information on whether the Director of Public Prosecutions has advised police to charge Acosta with any crime.

Harewood-Christopher has been asked to acknowledge the letter before noon on August 18 and to respond no later than noon on August 21.

Newsday contacted Hinds about the allegations against him and sent him a copy of Sobrian's letter via WhatsApp, but there was no response up until press time.


"Returned migrant: CoP must probe National Security Minister"

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