The police vehicle which was at the Erin police station waiting to transport the Venezuelan immigrants yesterday.

Derek Achong

State lawyers could not give information on most of the group of Venezuelan children and women who returned to Trinidad and Tobago this week after being repatriated on Sunday, during a hearing of a lawsuit for some of them yesterday.

After the group returned on Tuesday, lawyers representing their relatives, who are registered migrants, filed a lawsuit and injunction application on behalf of a four-year-old with a heart condition, his mother and sister, in the hope that their case would decide the fate of the others who are similarly circumstanced.

On Wednesday, State attorneys gave an undertaking not to enforce deportation orders against the family members pending the determination of the case and they were transferred from the Erin Police Station to the Chaguaramas Heliport early yesterday morning.

Legal sources said when the case came up before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams last night, State attorneys could not give any information on the status of the other migrants, as they said they had not received any instructions in relation to them. They also could not say if the legal undertaking applied to them.

Attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who is leading the legal team for the entire group, reportedly indicated that he would spend the weekend filing similar individual lawsuits for the other group members to ensure they receive similar treatment.

During the hearing, Ramdeen also complained that the family of three who were moved to the quarantine facility at the migrant detention centre at the Chaguaramas Heliport yesterday, were not allowed to contact their relatives in Trinidad.

Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, who led the State’s legal team, reportedly indicated that he and Ramdeen should hold further discussion on the conditions of the family’s quarantine.

Guardian Media understands that the family’s relatives made asylum applications for them to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and they were approved yesterday.

At the start of the hearing, Quinlan-Williams raised the fact that the case was attracting media attention. While she said that reports could be published, she warned that the names of the children should not be revealed.

In a press release issued yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi noted that this newspaper incorrectly stated an injunction blocking any move to deport them a second time had been granted. The undertaking granted by his office negated the need for the injunction, as it achieved the same purpose and was in fact not pursued.

While Al Rawi criticised this newspaper for failing to properly observe the proceedings, he did not mention that media personnel and observers were removed from the virtual hearing at a preliminary stage before the undertaking was even raised and discussed. Media personnel were also not permitted access to yesterday’s hearing as the case involved minors.

Although this newspaper’s reports never identified the members of the group by name, as the same protection for minors locally was afforded to them, Al-Rawi cited the name of the child on whose behalf the case filed at the start of his release. He also incorrectly stated that the hearing on Wednesday began at 7 pm, when it fact it commenced after 8 pm because Quinlan-Williams was engaged with another case.

The group is also being represented by Nafeesa Mohammed, Dayadai Harripaul and Umesh Maharaj. Raphael Adjodha appeared alongside Armour for the State.

The case is expected to come up for a next hearing on a date to be fixed by Quinlan-Williams.


How the migrants got here

The group of Venezuelans, which consists of 16 children and 10 adults, was detained shortly after arriving in Chatam last Tuesday.

The migrants, the youngest of whom is four-months-old, were tested for COVID-19 and were all found to be negative. They were then held in custody at several police stations until their repatriation on Sunday morning. The migrants were placed on two civilian vessels and escorted out of T&T waters by the Coast Guard.

Although Quinlan-Williams ordered that the group be brought before her during a hearing on Monday, State attorneys informed her that they could not comply as they were already out of the jurisdiction. She dismissed their habeas corpus cases.

But the group returned to Trinidad and landed in Los Iros on Tuesday afternoon and was immediately detained by police and taken for a medical examination. They were then held at the Erin Police Station.

Quarantine orders, issued to the group and obtained by Guardian Media, stated that their quarantine began on Tuesday (November 24) when they returned and continued while being detained at the police station.

In the court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, the migrants’ legal team claimed that the actions of State officials in deporting them on Sunday breached their constitutional rights to liberty, protection of the law and privacy and family life, which are guaranteed to any person within T&T including illegal migrants.

They also alleged that the action breached several international treaties and the National Policy to address Refugees and Asylum, which was created in 2014 and was not abolished.