The Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo.

The swift deportation of 160 Venezuelans by the Ministry of National Security late Saturday came on the cusp of a planned meeting between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro. The deportation also follows the fiasco last week in which 27 Venezuelans, including 16 minors, were escorted back to Venezuela on the order of this Government last Sunday, only to return two days later.

That incident, which has attracted international headlines, prompted Maduro to request a meeting with the T&T Government to address matters of “security, human mobility, crime, and drug trafficking,” according to a tweet posted by Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza four days ago. The time and details of that meeting are yet to be ironed out.

Minister of National Security Stuart Young in a media release on Saturday stated that it had come to his attention, via a media report, that certain lawyers approached a High Court Judge, ex-parte, and that the judge made certain orders pertaining to some Venezuelans who are in T&T illegally.

Young said the State was not represented at this hearing and he has spoken to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi for this particular matter to be appropriately addressed.

On Saturday morning, Attorney Jerome Riley and others, from Criston J Williams and Company, representing migrants at court, applied for judicial review to stop the order of deportation. Riley said Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams granted the stay of the 19 migrants.

However, there was confusion over whether the 19 had been granted a stay. Al-Rawi said the State was in the dark over the motion filed and no matter has been served on the AG’s office.

In a statement to Guardian Media, Al-Rawi said the office of the Attorney General has noticed unconfirmed reports in the media that proceedings were allegedly filed in High Court on Saturday relative to immigration and deportation matters.

“I can confirm that no proceedings have been served on the Attorney General, Minister of National Security or even the Immigration authorities as far as I am aware, and have been advised nor has for that matter, any order as reported in the media been served upon us.

“If there are indeed proceedings they may have been filed and heard ex-parte without the State’s involvement.”

He said this was a matter of “grave concern” as the very concept of due process requires transparency and opportunity for submissions to be factored in judicial proceedings and it is unseemly for litigation to be carried out largely in the media.

“I make no complaint of the Judiciary in relation to ex-parte proceedings as it is perfectly acceptable for a court to act ex-parte in urgent matters. I do condemn the impression that the State has ‘lost’ matters when they are yet to be heard in inter partes proceedings.’

He said attorneys for the claimants should be clear in their communications to the media “so as to avoid false impressions taking root.”

Lawyers get phone call from family members

Riley said they received a phone call from family members of the group of migrants indicating that the Coast Guard informed them that there was going to be a deportation exercise on Saturday.

“After receiving that information from other credible sources, we immediately filed an application for judicial review at approximately 9:30 am seeking to stop the order of deportation among other reliefs. The said order was obtained at 11:54 am. The interim relief being to stay the order of deportation, meaning to stop it. The court saw merit in our application and granted our prayer.”

The matter is against the Ministry of National Security, Chief Immigration Officer, and the Chief of Defence Staff, he said.

The migrant group in question comprises 19 individuals who arrived throughout September, October and November.

“We are currently seeking answers from the First Second and Third Named Defendants as to why there has been no acknowledgement of service of any of our proceedings in keeping with the Civil Proceedings Rules (1998) in this technological age, as well as why there seems to be the flouting of the court’s orders,” his statement added.

Up to late Saturday, it could not be confirmed whether the 19 immigrants who reportedly received the stay of deportation were among the 160 sent back.

Young’s media release stated that the 160 Venezuelans had been deported from this country “in conjunction with Venezuelan authorities.” The release gave the assurance that the exercise had been “carried out in compliance” with this country’s laws and the “fulfilment of government policy.”

The release appeared, however, to be vague at best as it failed to give a comprehensive break down of the numbers and which locations they had been taken from before they were deported.

Immigration sources confirmed to the Sunday Guardian that at least 46 Venezuelan immigrants, some who had overstayed their time in this country and others who had entered T&T illegally, were whisked away from the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) early Saturday around 6 am.

Sources said that 20 Venezuelan males and 26 Venezuelan females were taken from the facility and later transported by buses to the Coast Guard base in Chaguaramas “where they were processed and later placed on a vessel bound for Venezuela with several others.”

That particular exercise at the IDC was overseen by Immigration Four Officer Harricou.

Sources also said that several Venezuelans who were being detained in Chaguaramas were also placed aboard the vessel.

Young, in the release, added that in 2019 the Government in an “unprecedented humanitarian exercise,” having concern for T&T’s Venezuelan neighbours, carried out a Venezuelan Migrant Registration Exercise for all Venezuelans present in T&T. The result of this exercise, he said, was that 16,523 Venezuelans were registered and permitted to be legally in T&T.

“While the Government acknowledges that there may be personal views surrounding the illegal entry into Trinidad and Tobago by persons, the Government, through the Ministry of National Security and other arms of the state, will continue to apply the laws and do all that it reasonably can to secure the borders and prevent illegal entry into Trinidad and Tobago.”

Young said the measures being taken, including the closure of T&T’s borders, are to protect the health and safety of T&T’s citizens and those who are here legally in T&T.

Riley told the Sunday Guardian that if the migrants are being deported without due process, then their human rights are being denied.

“This is really an unfortunate situation as there are people being deported without due process. This goes against fundamental human rights. It is a sad situation.”