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Dillon claims they left ‘voluntarily’
The Ministry of National Security remains adamant that Saturday’s repatriation was done “voluntarily,” as none of the Venezuelan nationals expressed fear or objection.
The ministry defended its actions in a release yesterday, saying Government has a right to repatriate any foreign national found to be in breach of the laws of T&T and adding it will take the necessary steps to ensure such repatriation.
It said the Government 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.”
These discussions followed claims by Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Ghandi-Andrews, at a Joint Select Committee of Parliament on April 6, that 89 Venezuelan nationals were detained for various offences at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), the ministry said.
“Officials from the Venezuelan Embassy visited the nationals detained at the IDC on Friday April 13 to ascertain their well-being and identify their needs for repatriation. Subsequently, at the request of the Venezuelan Ambassador, a meeting was held between the Ministry of National Security and the Venezuelan Embassy on Tuesday April 17 to discuss the situation.”
It said Venezuelan Ambassador Coromondo Godoy subsequently revealed her fellow nationals expressed a desire to return to Venezuela and assured them the Venezuela government would do everything possible to assist them in returning home. The release added that Dillon in turn assured they would work with the Embassy to facilitate the repatriation.
As a result on this agreement, Dillon said on Friday, at the request of the Venezuelan Embassy, the Immigration Division gave all Venezuelan nationals in detention an opportunity to go to their embassy to obtain travel documents to return to Venezuela. It said 102 persons were transported to the embassy. However, of this group, 19 could not be repatriated as warrants had been issued for them to serve varying terms of imprisonment in T&T after being convicted for various offences.
It said a diplomatic note was sent to the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs seeking permission to land a Venezuelan aircraft to specifically repatriate its citizens detained at the IDC and on Saturday, 82 Venezuelan nationals (53 men and 29 women) voluntarily left the IDC to be repatriated to their homeland.
The ministry said at the Piarco International Airport each person was asked if they had any fear or objection to returning to their homeland.
“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.”
It also said the Immigration Division had received reports that foreign nationals have been entering the country and are being required to pay a fee to facilitate a claim for asylum, although they are not entering the country as refugees. It said an investigation has been launched into this matter.
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