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We must protect asylum-seekers

Published: 
Monday, April 23, 2018
Mass deportations upset UN co-ordinator
A military aircraft at Piarco International Airport waiting to take Venezuelan immigrants back to their homeland . PICTURE MINISTRY OF NATIONAL SECURITY

The United Nations (UN) has raised deep concerns over Saturday’s deportation of 82 Venezuelan nationals from T&T, among them asylum seekers, saying they could not verify whether it was a “voluntary repatriation” process as claimed by the Ministry of National Security.

It is also of the belief, like many locals and Venezuelan nationals here in T&T, that the T&T Government has failed the deportees and disrespected their human rights people seeking asylum and refugee status from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

In a release yesterday, United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator Richard Blewitt said the body was concerned for the welfare of these people.

“We are in contact with the appropriate authorities in Port-of-Spain to ensure that any person in need of protection will get it without fail,” Blewitt said.

On Saturday, a Venezuelan military aircraft took 82 Venezuelan nationals – 53 men and 29 women - back home from the Piarco International Airport. Just under 40 of those 82 Venezuelans were said to have applied for asylum and refugee status in T&T, but sources said the certificates they had in their possession were allegedly disregarded by T&T Immigration officers.

In a release on Saturday, the Ministry of National Security said the Venezuelan nationals, who were being kept at the Immigration Detention Centre, were voluntarily repatriated with the assistance of the Ambassador of Venezuela to T&T, Coromoto Godoy.

Yesterday, however, Blewitt said this statement “could not be verified independently by UN observers.” He said the UN and its local partners have encouraged the prompt adoption of national legislation on refugee issues, and work together to support the T&T Government in its efforts to develop an efficient and secure asylum system.

Also addressing the issue yesterday, Ministry for Migrants and Refugees Coordinator at the Living Water Community (LWC), Rochelle Nakhid, said for almost 30 years the LWC has joyfully served asylum-seekers and refugees who have come to T&T seeking asylum from persecution.

Saying they had acted in partnership with the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) and the T&T Government, Nakhid said, “This relationship comprises defined procedures that create a legitimate expectation of adherence to same. It is necessary to remember that seeking asylum is a humanitarian and a non-political act and one which should not be considered as unfriendly between states.”

She emphasised that non-refoulement remains a core principle of protection enshrined in refugee law and is also part of customary international law.

“It means that persons are not to be returned to where their life would be in danger. In the absence of legislation in T&T which affords other rights such as the right to work, to have identity documents and guaranteed access to social services, this protection from return appears to be at risk if parties do not acknowledge that the majority of Venezuelans are in need of protection as advocated by the UNHCR and as we witness on a daily basis,” Nakhid said.

She said the food and medicine shortages and increasing criminal activity and general instability in Venezuela have forced large numbers of them to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, including T&T.

“Many Venezuelans face a lack of documentation, sexual and gender-based violence and various forms of exploitation, including by criminal gangs. Women are at high risk of trafficking and this phenomenon is quickly worsening as criminals prey on their lack of legal status,” Nakhid said.

“True to our Catholic identity, we have heeded the call to love the stranger as ourselves and to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees.”

Attempts to reach National Security Minister Edmund Dillon on the issue yesterday were unsuccessful as he did not answer calls to his cellphone.

MORE INFO

In March 2018, the UN Refugee Agency published a Guidance note for states on how to treat with the outflow of Venezuelans in light of rapidly deteriorating political and socio-economic conditions.

This note 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, given that the majority of cases would in fact be considered as refugees under the 1984 Cartagena Declaration.

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