Relatives of the Venezuelan migrants who returned to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, yesterday spent a gruelling and heart-wrenching day not knowing the status of their loved ones detained in the cells at the Erin Police Station yesterday.
Carrying bags of personal supplies, food and medicine for them, relatives, some of whom had camped overnight outside of the station, said they were tired and frustrated.
They had expected their loved ones, among them infants, to be transported to the Chaguaramas Heliport for a two-week quarantine, which Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams had ordered during an emergency sitting of the High Court on Wednesday night.
However, up to last evening, 26 of them were still detained in the station’s cell. There was conflicting information about if, how or when the migrants were going to be transported to the heliport.
However, a woman and her two young children were moved out of the station sometime after 2 am yesterday and transported to Chaguaramas. One of the children, a four-year-old boy, has a heart condition. Owing to his condition, the state indicated to the judge that it would allow the child to undergo quarantine in the care of his mother.
They were among 29 migrants, including 16 children, the youngest a four-month-old baby, who were arrested in Chatham last week Tuesday and detained at a police station. Lawyers had filed a writ of habeas corpus on their behalf but they were deported from the Cedros port on Sunday morning before their court matter was heard. The matter was scheduled for later that day. However, on Tuesday the migrants returned to the country in a boat at the Los Iros Beach in Erin. They were drenched, cold, and hungry.
A video taken by the migrants in the station shows that they are being kept in cells in the station, with some of them lying on the ground with their childen. The video has been shared on social media and has drawn criticism by scores of social media users.
Speaking with Guardian Media at a shop near the Erin Police Station yesterday, a Venezuelan national who gave his name only as Miguel said he camped outside the station all night. He has not been in contact with his wife and three children since their detention. Miguel, who resides in Trinidad, dropped off food, clothes, medicine, pampers and personal items for his family.
Tired and sad over the situation, Miguel said the woman and her two children who were part of the group were moved from the station after 2 am, but the police were not giving him any information about his wife, two sons and daughter.
Media personnel also spent most of the day outside the station as they received conflicting information about when the migrants would be moved. They eventually left after the police told them that they would be moved sometime after 7 pm. The court matter was also expected to be heard again at 7 last evening.
In a press release yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi refuted a report that an injunction was granted on Wednesday by Quinlan-Williams blocking the State from deporting the migrants. He said the question of deportation was not argued.
Rather, Al-Rawi said the State gave “a voluntary undertaking that any Deportation Order which may be issued to the Claimant will be stayed and not executed pending the hearing and determination of the Constitutional Motion.” He said the only issue pursued was the need for the claimant (the four-year-old boy with the heart condition) to undergo mandatory quarantine in the care of his mother.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley penned jointly by 17 human rights organisations, they argued that the T&T authorities had been given a second chance to uphold its domestic and international obligations to protect the rights of children and to provide international protection for people seeking safety from danger.
“We ask the Government to immediately reunite the children with their families, grant them access to apply for asylum, screen to determine if they have been trafficked and provide medical attention, as should have been done after they were first identified by the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago,” the coalition group stated.
The group asked the Government to follow other Latin American countries and find resources and solutions to respond to and help people fleeing from Venezuela.