After $2.4m judgment for Venezuelan boy, mother sues State: ‘Heliport unfit for migrants'

The heliport in Chaguaramas. -
The heliport in Chaguaramas. -

The mother of the 15-year-old Venezuelan boy who was awarded $2.4 million in damages after being detained at the heliport as an illegal immigrant for 450 days is now filing for judicial review of the heliport, calling for it to be shut down as a detention centre for immigrants.

Gerald Ramdeen, attorney representing the mother and child, revealed this to Newsday in a phone conversation on Sunday. He said the mother has called for the closure of the heliport coming out of the evidence in the boy's case.

"The evidence that came out of this case made it clear that this place was unfit to detain people, let alone children," Ramdeen said.

On Friday, Justice Margaret Mohammed ordered the defendants in the case, the Chief Immigration Officer and the Attorney General, to pay the boy  $900,000 in general damages, $500,000 as aggravated damages and $1 million in exemplary damages.

In 2020, the boy, 13 at the time, left Venezuela in a pirogue with the hope of seeking asylum in TT and arrived on November 17, where he and his mother were held. They were escorted out of TT waters by the Coast Guard in the vessel they came in. However on November 24, they tried again to enter TT, and were again arrested, this time by the police.

The boy was first detained under a quarantine order in connection with covid19 at a health facility then at Erin Police Station and finally at the heliport.

In December 2020 he started constitutional proceedings seeking interim relief which restrained the State from taking steps to remove him and his mother from TT during the quarantine period. His quarantine ended on December 15, but he remained in detention at the heliport because of ongoing constitutional proceedings which prevented the state from removing him and the mother from TT.

The Chaguaramas Heliport was declared an immigration centre by then Minister of National Security Stuart Young, in 2020, at the height of the covid19 pandemic. Young declared the heliport a detention centre for the duration of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization declared that covid19 was no longer a global public health emergency on May 5, 2023, but, in contradiction to Young's orders, people were still being detained at the centre.

Ramdeen told Newsday that on July 10, 2023, when about 200 undocumented Venezuelan nationals were arrested at a St James bar, they were detained at the heliport, in contrast to  Young's orders that the facility was to be used as a detention centre only for the period of the pandemic. On July 25, current Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds continued the use of the heliport as a detention centre until otherwise declared.

Ramdeen said the heliport continued to operate as a detention centre under Hinds' orders, meaning that children continued to be taken to the centre. "When they hold minors in theseexercises they still take minors there. They carry children there for processing. I don't know how long they stay there. We don't know if they stay there for a day, a week, a month…we just don't know.

"How many children have been detained at the heliport and suffered the same fate as this young boy?"

Horrors at heliport

The judgment detailed what were described as "horrors" the boy endured at the heliport, lambasting the State and calling the actions taken against the child under its watch as "egregious, shocking and appalling."

She said the conditions were so poor that the meals which the boy wasgiven during the entire period could not meet his daily dietary needs as a minor, which caused the child to fall ill on several occasions, and become depressed. He was not given basic necessities, such as drinking water, to meet his daily water intake.

The heliport, designed to hold no more than 100 people, was frequently overcrowded, with mothers having to stay with their children at the heliport, causing intermingling of children and adults. As a result the child was exposed to extreme and explicit sexual acts and activities. One part of the judgment revealed the boy was also being groomed for sex by one of the female detainees.

A report by traumatologist Dr Hanif Benjamin said, as a result of this exposure to those activities, the young boy had formed a negative perception of sex.

"The consequences of the claimant being exposed to explicit sexual acts have been dire, which can only be described as if he has been robbed of his innocence as a child," Mohammed said in her judgement.

The Benjamin report submitted that his untimely and age-inappropriate exposure with sexual activity would negatively affect a child's emotions and alter their thought processes as it invades their imagination. It added that it could impair the way the child views people – deducing that it could reduce the image of others to objects for gratification.
"Overall it reduces the extent of control he could have had over his thoughts, emotions & actions and interferes with his well-being," the report said.

Reports of overcrowding, poor diet and exposure to the covid19 virus through the co-mingling of detainees who tested positive and those who did not, through the use of the same bathroom facility, were highlighted by Dr Israel Dowlat, but were largely ignored, Mohammed found.

"Why was this allowed to continue from 2020-2023? How many children detained at the heliport suffered the same fate? Can you imagine setting up a place to detain nationals from Venezuela and there is not a single attempt to have a proper interpreter there for people to talk?

"Can you imagine the doctor telling the Chief of Defence Staff that they cannot feed the children the food because it is causing them to vomit and giving people skin rashes, that more than one person could not digest the food, and you make no attempt to rectify that, and still you detain hundreds of people there?"

Ramdeen said in the judicial review of the heliport, the judge may have to review thousands of documents including all the evidence in the recent case and up to ten habeas corpus applications arising from the detention of immigrants at the Apex bar.


"After $2.4m judgment for Venezuelan boy, mother sues State: ‘Heliport unfit for migrants’"

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