An attorney is calling for a full-scale investigation into the circumstances in which 16 Venezuelan children and nine women were deported mere hours before their habeas corpus hearing yesterday morning.
They were deported sometime after 11 am while a yellow level adverse weather alert was in effect for a large part of the country.
Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed expressed concern for the welfare of the deportees, especially the children whose ages range from four months to 14 years old. She said the actions of law enforcement officers were in breach of all international principles and showed disrespect for the judicial system.
Late yesterday a judge stood down the hearing so that the Chief Immigration Officer could be joined as a party to the proceedings. Up until then, neither the attorneys nor the children’s and women’s relatives knew their whereabouts. Some of the children’s mothers were deported while their fathers are legally residing in Trinidad.
Mohammed said the women and children were arrested in the Chatham area on Tuesday and taken to the Erin Police Station. She claimed they were kept in a cell where at least one of the children fell ill.
She said on Friday she wrote to the Chief Immigration Officer asking for dialogue on the status of the women and children. Later that day, they gathered all the documentary evidence showing the family ties, the children’s birth certificates and other the relevant documents and submitted to them to the Immigration Division in Port of Spain. However, the immigration officials refused to accept the documents.
Mohammed said hen she found out that the women and children were going to be moved to the Cedros Police Station on Saturday, she filed a writ of habeas corpus in the High Court. The matter was scheduled for 2 pm yesterday. Mohammed sent emails and WhatsApp messages informing the various law enforcement heads of the matter but yesterday morning she got word that the women and children were being deported from the Cedros jetty where the Coast Guard base is located.
The court was immediately informed and the hearing was moved up to 12.30 pm.
“Before that time could have arrived I received photos of two pirogues taking those children and women away from Trinidad. That was sometime after 11 am,” Mohammed said.
She said she was told that the Coast Guard escorted the boats to a certain point and then returned to Trinidad.
“It is really stunning to know that such actions would be taken by persons representing the state. This is in breach of all our obligations internationally and of course locally because the fact is they knew that court proceedings had commenced and instead of respecting the court, in fact, this writ of habeas corpus was promptly issued, they whisked them away on a boat.”
She said relatives of the deportees in Trinidad are worried about their safety.
“At the end of the day when it comes to children, there are special circumstances that the law recognises and of most of these children’s fathers are here in Trinidad. This required a humanitarian and human rights approach not a law enforcement approach,” she said.
While their whereabouts are not known, Mohammed said there is unconfirmed information that they were taken an abandoned island called La Barra about two hours away from the Venezuelan mainland.
“To get onto the island you would have to swim from the boat,” she said.”What about pirates and human traffickers who could take these children?”
Mohammed, who resigned as the deputy political leader of the PNM before the general elections, called for a full-scale investigation to determine who sanctioned the deportations.
“This requires a government intervention at the highest level for a full investigation into what happened and who gave the instructions for these children to be sent back. These are children. Special circumstances warrant a different approach and the high handedness that has been displayed in certain quarters and the disrespect that has been shown for our judicial and legal system it reeks of a breakdown in our institutions and disrespect for the rule of law,” she said.
Efforts to contact Police Commissioner Gary Griffith and the Chief Immigration Officer were unsuccessful. Contacted via Whatsapp, Public Affairs Office at the T&T Coast Guard Lieutenant Khadija Lamy said she would get back to us, but up to press time, no response was forthcoming.