Trinidad and Tobago government explains deportations of Venezuelan migrants
PORT OF SPAIN – After the United Nations System in Trinidad and Tobago said it is concerned after authorities announced they had facilitated the return to Venezuela of scores of Venezuelan nationals, including asylum seekers, who had been in detention, and similar expressions of concern by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the government has attempted to explain its actions.
In a press statement on Monday, the government said that, while it respects the rights of any person to seek asylum in Trinidad and Tobago and the decision of any foreign national to voluntarily return to their country of nationality, it also has a right to repatriate any foreign national who is found to be in breach of local laws of and will take the necessary steps to ensure repatriation.
The UNHCR said in an earlier statement that it deeply regreted the deportation this past weekend by Trinidad and Tobago of 82 Venezuelan nationals. The 82 include registered asylum-seekers and individuals who had declared an intention to apply for refugee status, making their return to Venezuela a breach of international refugee law.
“The forced return of this group is of great concern,” said Volker Türk, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection. “We are in contact with the authorities and are seeking clarification on the legal process which has led to the deportations of this group, to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago continues to abide by its international obligations.”
The group, which had been held in detention in Trinidad and Tobago, was deported from the country on Saturday despite UNHCR’s request for access to the individuals concerned and written interventions.
UNHCR called on Trinidad and Tobago to continue to abide by its international obligations as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other applicable international instruments that are incorporated into its official Refugee Policy, in particular the principle of non-return, known as non-refoulement, and Article 31 of the Convention which requests signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence” to people who are in need of international protection.
The Trinidad and Tobago government said it has been engaged in discussions with the government of Venezuela to reduce the length of detention for those Venezuelan nationals in breach of local laws and to repatriate them to their homeland as soon as practicable.
Following revelations by the chief immigration officer at a Joint Select Committee of Parliament on April 6, 2018, that 89 Venezuelan nationals were detained for various offences at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), officials from the Venezuelan embassy visited them at the IDC to ascertain their well-being and identify their needs for repatriation.
The Venezuelan ambassador stated that her fellow citizens expressed a desire to return to Venezuela and she had assured them that the government of Venezuela would do everything possible to assist them in returning home. The minister of national security also gave the assurance that his ministry would work with the embassy to facilitate the repatriation.
On Friday, at the request of the Venezuelan embassy, the Immigration Division facilitated all Venezuelan nationals in detention who agreed to go to their embassy to obtain travel documents to return to Venezuela; 102 persons were transported to the embassy.
“None of the nationals expressed fear or objection to be taken to the embassy,” the government said.
On Saturday, a Venezuelan military aircraft landed at Piarco International Airport to effect the repatriation. Eighty-two Venezuelan nationals comprising 53 men and 29 women voluntarily left the Immigration Detention Centre to be repatriated to their homeland. Nineteen of the 102 could not be repatriated as warrants have been issued for them to serve varying terms of imprisonment in Trinidad and Tobago, having been convicted for various offences.
At the airport, each person was reportedly asked if they had any fear or objection to returning to their homeland, and all stated that they wanted to leave. Each signed the necessary documents for their departure before being handed their travel document.
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 entire exercise was recorded by the Trinidad and Tobago Air Guard.
The government of Trinidad and Tobago said it has been collaborating with the 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.
Photo: Volker Türk, UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection