UPDATE: T&T gov't says no Venezuelans were forced to leave

Monday, April 23, 2018

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Trinidad and Tobago government, in responding to claims that Venezuelan asylum seekers were forcibly repatriated to their homeland, says no Venezuelans were compelled or coerced into leaving the country last Saturday.

The Ministry of National Security of the twin island republic, in a statement issued after the United Nations expressed concern that a number of Venezuelans asylum seekers may have been deported, said it respects the rights of any person to seek asylum in the country as well as the decision of any foreign national to voluntarily return to their country of nationality.

“The Government of Trinidad and Tobago also has a right to repatriate any foreign national who is found to be in breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and will take the necessary steps to ensure repatriation.

“To this end the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the Government of Venezuela have been engaged in discussions to reduce the length of detention for those Venezuelan nationals in breach of the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and to repatriate them to their homeland as soon as practicable,” the Ministry of National Security said in a statement.

At least 82 Venezuelan nationals, including 29 women, were deported to their homeland last Saturday and the Ministry of National Security said the Venezuelans “were voluntarily repatriated…to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela with the assistance of the Ambassador of Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago, Her Excellency Coromoto Godoy”.

It said that the government here had held discussions with the Venezuelan ambassador on April 18 to discuss arrangements for the “Venezuelan nationals who were being housed at the Immigration Detention Centre, Aripo, back to their homeland”.

But the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Richard Blewitt said “the United Nations is concerned for the welfare of these people and is in contact with the appropriate authorities in Port of Spain to ensure that any person in need of protection will get it without fail”.

The Living Water Community (LWC), a religious based organisation that works with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that it too had received reports of Venezuelans being deported.

“At this point we are unclear if this deportation extends to asylum-seekers duly registered with the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) as such, or who have expressed a desire to seek asylum.

“We await confirmation on this. The guidance note from UNHCR on the outflow of Venezuelans advises that states apply a protection-oriented response in dealing with Venezuelans in a way that reflects an understanding of protection as a humanitarian and non-political act, and as an act of solidarity with the people of Venezuela.

“It asks that states find ways to facilitate access to their territory, award official documentation, grant access to basic rights and very importantly, apply a non-return principle to Venezuela,” according to Rochelle Nakhid, the coordinator at the LWC.

However the Keith Rowley government said that at the airport “each person was asked if they had any fear or objection to returning to their homeland” and that “all stated that they wanted to leave.

“Each signed the necessary documents for their departure before being handed their travel document by Immigration Officers and having their personal property checked by Customs officials. Prior to boarding the aircraft, each individual was again asked by a different set of officials if they had any fear of returning to their homeland; each again responded in the negative and willingly boarded a bus with their belongings to be taken to the aircraft. No one was forced or coerced to leave the IDC, board the bus or the aircraft. The entire exercise was recorded by the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard,” the statement said.

The government said it has been collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure the protection of persons fleeing persecution and “will continue to support the work of the UNHCR while maintaining law and order and national security interests of Trinidad and Tobago”.

But the statement said that the Immigration Division has received reports that foreign nationals have been entering the country and are being required to pay a fee to facilitate a claim for asylum, even though they are not entering the country as refugees.

“Further reports to the Immigration Division allege that these foreigners are being advised that that they cannot be 'touched by Immigration' once they receive an Asylum Seeker Certificate and that they can live and work freely in Trinidad and Tobago even though they do not have the requisite legal documents. These allegations are being investigated by the appropriate agencies,” the statement said.

The government said it is also concerned that “many foreigners have entered the country illegally or have overstayed the landing permission granted to them by the Immigration Division and, as a result, may become susceptible to exploitation because of their irregular immigration status.
“These breaches of national security will not be tolerated by this Government and every effort will be taken to prevent exploitation of foreign nationals, while at the same time, we continue to protect this country's borders.”

Earlier this month, Gandhi-Andrews, told a select Joint Committee of Parliament that an estimated 2,000 Venezuelans have applied for asylum here in recent months.

The committee was told that in 2015, there were 29 male Venezuelan detainees, but one year later the figure had risen to 125 including 97 females. Last year, there were 45 men and 82 women. She said that on a weekly basis, between 150 and 200 Venezuelans come here by sea, some of them, illegally.

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