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(TRINIDAD NEWSDAY) – THE United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says this country has broken international refugee law.
In a release yesterday, the Geneva-based UNHCR, said that it “deeply regrets the deportation” of 82 Venezuelan nationals on Saturday.
The group, which comprised 53 men and 29 women, included registered asylum-seekers and individuals who had declared an intention to apply for refugee status, making their return to Venezuela a breach of international refugee law, the agency said. The detainees, held at the Immigration Detention Centre, were deported despite the UNHCR’s request for access to the individuals concerned and written interventions, it added.
“The forced return of this group is of great concern,” said Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “We are in contact with the authorities and are seeking clarification on the legal process which has led to the deportations of this group, to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago continues to abide by its international obligations.”
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, when questioned by Newsday yesterday afternoon in the Parliament, said he had not seen the UNHCR release since he had been chairing a Joint Select Committee hearing for the Anti-Terrorism Amendment Bill 2018. As such, Al-Rawi said he would prefer not to say anything until he has reviewed the release.
Newsday offered to show the AG the release, but Al-Rawi said he needed more time than the one minute before his break from the JSC hearing was over and the meeting resumed.
Al Rawi has reportedly said he could state “with comfort” that all deportees had volunteered to be returned home. He later told Newsday that he has requested a report on the process from the Immigration Division.
TT signed on to the the UNHCR’s 1951 Refugee Convention in 2000 but has not enacted any legislation for dealing with refugees. Instead, the local UNHCR office and non-profit organisation, the Living Water Community, process applications. As signatories to the treaty, the UN calls on TT to continue to abide by its international obligations and other applicable international instruments incorporated into the UNHCR’s official Refugee Policy.
In particular, the principle of non-return, known as non-refoulement, and Article 31 of the Convention which requests signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence” to people who are in need of international protection. So far, though, it seems that the deportees have been returned, with no repercussions, to their homeland.
Newsday was informed that the plane landed safely in Caracas. Elena Vega,
* to whom the Newsday spoke on Saturday, said her husband, Julio,
* one of the deportees, was home and well, and had no trouble with the government when he landed, despite initial concerns. “I am happy to have him here, by the grace of God,” she said.
Julio had been held by the Immigration Division, despite having an active application with the UNHCR as an asylum seeker. His certificate was issued three days after his detention, but he was never released.
*Names changed to protect identities.