Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi says Trinidad and Tobago cannot afford to put systems in place at this time to deal with refugees and asylum seekers.
However, he has admitted it is an important discussion for T&T to start having since taxpayers will be the ones to foot the bill eventually when such things are put in place.
T&T has signed the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 protocol but is still yet to ratify them and therefore refugees and asylum seekers are not protected by local law.
But in explaining the reason for the delay on the laws to give teeth to treaty signings yesterday, Al-Rawi said, “When you sign an international convention there are several stages that you go through. You have accession importantly and then you have ratification. It’s not, in fact, one convention, there are two conventions, in the 1950s and 1960s, there were two separate conventions.
“T&T has not ratified these conventions. For international law to become local law, we have what we call a dualistic system of law, where you have to bring the international law into the parliament and then clothe it in local legislation,” Al-Rawi said.
“So after ratification, which we have not done, you then go and deal with the step of international law coming by local law.”
However, he said the issue was an important one for the nation to engage in. But Al-Rawi said statistics are needed to guide the policy.
“The current rate flow out of T&T is approximately 20-40 people per year, so it means that we’re signing on as a country—to engage in holding all of the people in your local pot, with a rate flow out of 20-40 people per year. That’s a dynamic that this country has to analyse to make sure that we can actually afford to deal with that,” he said during an event marking International Men’s Day hosted by the Bankers’ Association of T&T.
“Now put aside that point, that is only one of the points, the other aspect is, well what other systems can we engage in and in fact there are protocols that we’ve engaged in right now, in terms of access to healthcare, certain access to education etc. So we’re working our way around the peripheries of it. We’re in constant discussions with all of the entities.”
On whether T&T can manage the refugee/asylum situation right now, the AG said, “The math is, are we prepared from a policy perspective to manage this perspective right now, because once you turn that key, then you create rights and obligations which are actionable and then you have to be prepared to operationalise that law. One cannot easily jump into a situation, knowing that you can’t operationalise immediately.
“...It has to be done in a phased perspective and I want to point out to you: The UK is one of the few countries in the world that has ratified the convention. So you got to really do your homework to see what other people are doing as well. This is not something that one engages in an ad-hoc knee-jerk response. It has to be very carefully considered and that work is being done.”
Contacted yesterday, coordinator of the Ministry for Migrants and Refugees at the Living Water community, Rochelle Nakhid, emphasised that many countries worldwide have acceded to the 1951 Convention and have codified this into domestic legislation, including small countries like Belize, Uganda and all of Latin America.
“The majority of the world’s refugees remain hosted in developing countries and they continue to explore innovative ways of integrating them. Most importantly, the legal frameworks adopted serve to provide a principled basis for the protection of rights,” Nakhid said.
“Non-refoulement, or the principle of no return, is the cornerstone of refugee law and is also part of customary international law, making it binding on states. This principle states that refugees should not be returned to where their life may be in danger.
“Most refugees remain for many years in their host country and make significant contributions to its development. Resettlement is only reserved for the most vulnerable, which is less than 1% of all refugees worldwide.”
As defined by Articles 2(1) and 15 in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, accession is the act whereby a state accepts the offer or the opportunity to become a party to a treaty already negotiated. Noteworthy, is that it has the same legal effect as ratification and therefore the state has an international obligation under customary international law to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and purées of the treaty, a local attorney familiar with the situation stated.