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National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday put an entirely different spin on the ongoing case of a group of Venezuelan nationals seeking to enter Trinidad and Tobago within the past 72 hours.

As the saga of the group’s desperate attempt for refugee status continued with reports that they had landed yet again at the Los Iros beach, Minister Young maintained the Immigration Division’s decision to deport them over the weekend was legal. The Minister argued this was because the party entered T&T’s shores illegally and the various arms of law enforcement were within their legal right to detain, deport and escort them back to Venezuela via sea.

Noting that non-nationals require visas to enter T&T and that the borders are still closed to nationals and non-nationals, the Minister argued the group had breached immigration laws in the first instance. In highlighting the seriousness of the matter, Minister Young also linked these border breaches to the human trafficking trade, noting the activity was highly organised by members of rings who had agents collecting individuals who come into the country illegally.

The Minister also made it clear that the 16,523 Venezuelans granted permission under the Government programme to work in T&T last year do not have the right to bring their relatives into T&T without going through an immigration process. This activity, the Minister warned, was also illegal and those caught doing it would lose their registration cards and be liable to be deported.

But there were many other related things which Minister Young did not address, including how the Immigration Division and T&T Coast Guard has treated other similar cases differently to the most recent one.

A ruling yesterday by a High Court judge has now brought to the fore the fact that the State does not have the right to detain minors held entering the country illegally. This brings us to the really critical issue. Long before the socio-economic crisis in Venezuela, nationals from that country were making their way to T&T for refuge. The numbers have increased with the crisis deepening in Venezuela.

As Minister Young pointed out, it was with a deep sense of humanitarianism that T&T agreed to take in 16,000-plus brothers and sisters from Venezuela last year. But did the Government not expect that these same individuals would, in turn, seek to afford relatives they left behind the same opportunity here in T&T?

Needless to say, the current situation again re-emphasises the need for the Government to revisit the refugee situation and to devise a clear national policy by which all parties will operate. No country currently allows foreign nationals seeking asylum or refugee status unfettered access to their lands – since it creates a financial burden many nations just can’t afford, especially now with COVID-19 creating added pressures.

Therefore, following up on Minister Young’s revelations, it is high time Government enacts a definitive migrant policy so that all stakeholders will know exactly where they stand in future and avoid the current embarrassing fiasco.