Trinidad gov't slams OAS, Trump administration for latest Venezuela “refugee” wave

Trinidad gov't slams OAS, Trump administration for latest Venezuela “refugee” wave

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC)— The Trinidad and Tobago government today criticised the international community, most notably the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNCHR) regarding the controversy that has erupted here after 16 Venezuelan nationals, including children, deported last weekend, returned to the island late Tuesday.

In a strongly worded statement, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said his administration was not surprised at the unfolding situation given that the OAS “under its misguided (Secretary General) President (Luis) Almagro has been almost singlehandedly responsible for triggering and fuelling the current Venezuelan situation”.

He said that these public officials have virtually declared war on Trinidad and Tobago for having the “temerity to have not joined Elliot Abrams and President (Donald) Trump in forcing violent regime change in Venezuela.

“Trinidad and Tobago is currently under the latest assault, using nameless, faceless people armed with innocent children, to try and force us to accept their understanding of “refugee status and international treaty” where a little island nation of 1.3 million people must be expected to maintain open borders to a next door neighbour of 34 million people even during a pandemic,” Rowley said, insisting “this is a matter, not for the OAS, but for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

“Currently we have closed our borders even to our own citizens in this pandemic and would resist all efforts by others who are hell bent on forcing open our borders through illegal immigration,” Rowley said.

On Tuesday, several Venezuelans, including 16 children who were “deported” from the island on Sunday, returned to Trinidad and Tobago, even as National Security Minister Stuart Young urged citizens not to become “emotional” about the entire situation.

The Venezuelans, wet and shivering and awaiting law enforcement officials, told reporters soon after they landed at a beach in Erin in south Trinidad, that even though they had left this country in two boats, they decided to turn back toward Trinidad after one of the boats developed trouble. The youngest child in the group is reported to be four months old.

On Monday, a High Court judge conceded that she has no jurisdiction to order the return of the Venezuelans after they were deported on Sunday.

Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams said it was “a bit concerning” and “disturbing” that the court's order to have the Venezuelans appear in the court on Monday was made at midday on Sunday and even though the chief immigration officer was served about an hour later, yet it was difficult to get information on whereabouts of the children.

“I just can't understand how agents of the state cannot account in answer to a court order. The police don't know who they handed them over to; they say the immigration division. The immigration division says, 'No, not us'. It was like crazy,” she said, eventually ruling that despite the circumstances of the migrants' detention, it appeared they were no longer in Trinidad and Tobago's jurisdiction and that she no longer had jurisdiction.

Young told a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, prior to the return of the Venezuelans, “I understand the emotion and how people try to manipulate the situation.

But he insisted “it is not up to anyone to change the law to suit their feelings.

“This government has always approached non-national migration with a balance that includes the humanitarian aspect. The government can't be accused of treating migration issues without a humanitarian pillar,” he added.

Venezuela's Opposition leader, Juan Guadio, in a tweet condemned the move, calling it “cruel”.

“The cruel treatment to which they subject Venezuelans who have been forced to migrate as a result of the dictatorship is painful and inhuman. Parliament will initiate an investigation and the world is watching the events in Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.

The UNHCR said that more than 50 children who braved crossing the Columbus Channel from Venezuela to be reunited with their families already in Trinidad and Tobago have been turned away by Trinidad and Tobago law enforcement authorities.

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