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Detention challenges for foreign nationals?
“Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law”
—Lord Nichols in his ruling of December 16, 2004.
Is it political, economic or humanitarian? The Honourable Minister of National Security recently hinted at an amnesty for illegal migrants and the possibility of closure of the Ministry’s Immigration Detention (Holding) Centre (IDC) at Aripo. These proposals must be arousing the interest of thousands of irregular foreign nationals in this twin-island republic.
Minister Warner’s suggestions concur with views I advocated in an article captioned IDC Detainees Cry Inhumane Treatment published in this newspaper on October 23 last year. Some of these detainees have been languishing at the IDC for over two years. Even lawful detention becomes arbitrary and contrary to law if it is not subject to periodic review. Given the lengthy period of time they have been kept at the IDC, many of these detainees are yearning for a prompt inquiry or release because no restrictive immigration policies could justify indefinite detention.
On the issue of an amnesty, it would not be the first time that was granted for irregular migrants in Trinidad and Tobago. Former prime minister ANR Robinson adopted such a course of action during the 80s. What appears to be interesting with Minister Warner’s consideration is the similar contemplated immigration action by President Obama. Recognising that presidential elections are due later this year, Obama proposes to attract the Hispanic vote by offering an immigration amnesty. It should be noted that immigration can be fronted as a self-serving political tool despite its derivative economic benefits.
At home, unofficial and unconfirmed reports indicate that there may be around 7,000 irregular migrants from over 34 nations. If an amnesty policy is adopted, there must be criteria accompanied by robust scrutiny and vigorous screening procedures.
Regarding the closure of the Immigration Holding Centre, the government would do well to bear in mind the reason for building the IDC was to comply with international best practices for detainees. Previously, irregular migrants were housed at the prison in Arouca with hardened criminals.
Viewed seriously, any granting of amnesty for irregular migrants would not result in the immediate cessation of the migration phenomenon in this country nor in the global village. Therefore, prudence and extensive planning should take priority in these national interest matters.
Nationals of almost 30 countries, including Lithuania, Gambia, Sweden, Guyana, Vietnam, China, Nigeria, Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, are currently detained for a variety of immigration violations, while there some who served prison sentences are now being held at the IDC.
Some of the reasons being advanced for detention of these foreign nationals include: Reports made by locals when foreign nationals may want to leave their employers after becoming victims of sexual and labour exploitation; when there exists spousal abuse/separation/withdrawal of sponsorship; migrants who are engaged to be married to locals are escaping from domestic violence; roadblocks and raids conducted by police officers results in those overstaying their visa; possession of false documentation provided by some unscrupulous employers including work permits allegedly granted by the Ministry of National Security, and extensions granted by officials from the Immigration Department. Some migrants have been smuggled into Trinidad and Tobago at unofficial ports of entry. Furthermore, there may be those who are pregnant or have children in Trinidad and Tobago.
These situations are not a figment of someone’s imagination. It is a stark reality of life in this country. Fuelling the increase in irregular migrants are organised criminals. They do not only bring in illegal drugs and guns, but also use officialdom to facilitate movement of foreign women for sexual purposes. In several cases, foreign nationals are subject to slavish, inhumane and degrading treatment, with subtle threats of deportation as a means to control them.
The reality of such activities is horrifying when one considers that some immigration officials collude, connive, and condone organised criminal activities for handsome financial gains. These same officials demonstrate no respect for human dignity and international laws and blinded by the dollar sign, knowingly abuse their authority.
Next week, we will examine our immigration detention policy, a vague legislation, immigration law and human rights, special inquiry procedures, the rights of detainees under Section 4 and 5 of the Constitution, and Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relation, Trinidad and Tobago international obligations, international case precedents and alternatives to detention.
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