Trinidad and Tobago deported 16 Venezuelan minors: lawyer

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Trinidad and Tobago deported 16 Venezuelan minors: lawyer

Monday, November 23, 2020

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (AFP) - Trinidad and Tobago has deported 16 Venezuelan minors, separating some of them from their parents, a lawyer trying to stop their repatriation said Monday together with leaders of the Venezuelan opposition.

The minors were deported on Sunday, hours before a court hearing in which lawyers were due to demand permanent residence for the young Venezuelan migrants in the country, attorney Nafeesa Mohammed told AFP.

She called for an investigation into the operation and demanded that the government of Prime Minister Keith Rowley re-examine its handling of the migrant crisis triggered by the exodus of millions of people from Venezuela in recent years.

"There is need for an investigation to be done into how this unfolded and how the systems are being used," she said.

"We know we have irregular migrants and the time has come for the state to improve the system to manage the flows... These are children."

Venezuela opposition leader David Smolansky, tasked by the Organization of American States with monitoring migrants from his country, said the group of 29 deported migrants included 16 minors, one of them a baby of just four months.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights expressed its concern and called on Trinidad and Tobago to guarantee entry for Venezuelans seeking protection for humanitarian reasons.

After hours of uncertainty, opposition deputy Omar Gonzalez said the deportees were found in the Amacuro delta, a remote region in western Venezuela. He said the children would return to the island at the request of a Trinidadian judge.

The government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not comment on the case.

Mohammed, the lawyer, said she had asked immigration authorities last week for the children to be reunited with their parents after being detained on entering the country last Tuesday and sent to a police station.

She said she asked for a video-link hearing on Sunday afternoon, when a court demanded that the head of the Defense Staff -- the highest military position in Trinidad and Tobago -- present the migrants to court.

However, she said that when the hearing resumed on Monday, the commander of the Coast Guard reported that the minors had already been escorted to the country's maritime boundary.

The father of one of the children told AFP that he had lived in Trinidad and Tobago for two years and was sending money back to Venezuela to help his wife take care of their four children remaining in the country.

"Every day it is more critical and difficult for them to survive, so I told my wife to come here with our oldest daughter," he said.

"Things are getting worse in Venezuela. No food, no medication. Even though I send the money they cannot buy anything."

The UN estimates that more than five million Venezuelans have fled the economic and social collapse that has unfurled in their homeland since 2015, with some 24,000 seeking refuge in Trinidad and Tobago, an island just off the coast of the South American country.

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