Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Judge in Trinidad expresses concern about deportation of Venezuelan children

Published:Tuesday | November 24, 2020 | 9:16 AM
The Venezuelans were allegedly held last Tuesday and were kept at different police stations. Attorneys, acting on their behalf, had filed a writ of habeas corpus to prevent their deportation - Contributed photo.

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – A High Court judge has conceded that she has no jurisdiction to order the return of several Venezuelans, including children, after they were deported on Sunday.

Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams said Monday 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.

On Sunday night, Quinlan-Williams ordered the Chief of Defence Staff to “produce the bodies” of the group of 16 children and nine women on Monday in a writ of habeas corpus filed on their behalf.

But media reports had said that the Venezuelans were put in two unregistered boasts and escorted out of Trinidad and Tobago’s territorial waters by the Coast Guard.

The Venezuelans were allegedly held last Tuesday and were kept at different police stations.

They all tested negative for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The attorneys, acting on their behalf, had filed a writ of habeas corpus to prevent their deportation.

Attorney Nafessa Mohammed, speaking on a local radio programme, said she was “extremely disappointed’ at the turn of events and criticised the state for its “inhumane” attitude to the migrants.

She said the state should have adopted a humanitarian and human rights approach since it was a situation involving children.

In the court on Monday, Senior Counsel, Reginald Armour, representing the Chief Immigration Officer, the Attorney General, Minister of National Security as well as the Chief of Defence Staff, said the Venezuelans had been “out of sight” of the Coast Guard and were “not in the custody of either the Chief of Defence Staff or the Defence Force,” since 11:20 a.m. on Sunday.

Armour told the court that “to the best of my instructions, they are in Venezuela,” and that when the court order was made on Sunday afternoon, “they were not in the jurisdiction of Trinidad and Tobago.”

He told the judge in such circumstances she no longer had jurisdiction in the matter.

Mohammed pleaded for the children to be reunited with their parents in Trinidad and Tobago, some of whom are registered with the Government, while others are UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) cardholders.

She described as “disheartening,” the element of “stealth” that was used to remove the children when the authorities were aware that the matter was engaging the court’s attention.

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