UNHR spokesperson Liz Throssell

The United Nations Human Rights office has called on Trinidad and Tobago’s Government to safeguard the human rights of refugee and migrant children – and it says children should never be forcibly deported.

The UNHR office in Geneva did so yesterday, stating it was deeply concerned at T&T’s decision to deport 16 Venezuelan children and nine adults at the same time a legal application was being lodged against their removal.

UNHR spokesperson Liz Throssell delivered a statement on the issue yesterday. The statement was listed on UNHRC’s website alongside others regarding human rights issues in Cambodia, Iran and Ethiopia.

Throssell recounted the issue concerning the group which arrived in T&T on November 17 and was later placed on two boats and escorted by Coast Guard back into Venezuelan waters. Local courts dismissed their application to stay as they were considered outside of T&T’s jurisdiction when the matter came up on Monday. But the group returned to T&T on Tuesday and was immediately taken into custody by police.

In calling for T&T authorities to safeguard the human rights of refugee and migrant children, Throssell said this should include ensuring access to due process and procedural safeguards consistent with the principle of non-refoulment.

“All refugees and migrants regardless of status are entitled to the respect and protection of human rights. With regard to refugee and migrant children, states have a special duty of care – the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting them,” Throssell said.

“Children should never be forcibly deported based on their or their parents’ migration status.”

Throssell said the precondition to any return involving a child is that an independent, impartial decision has been taken, involving child protection officials and that a return is a sustainable solution that will ensure the rights, welfare and best interests of the child.

She also said state parties to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child must safeguard the rights of all children on their territory, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status.

“We urge all governments to suspend all forced returns amid the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard the health of migrants and communities and provide safe, legal pathways for migrants, including children, to regularise their status and avoid deportation risk.”

The deportation issue also attracted the attention of the Penal Forum, a Venezuelan human rights organisation that provides legal assistance pro bono to people subject to arbitrary detentions and their relatives.

Director/vice president Gonzalo Himiob said the NGO is taking up the case. He described the situation as “delicate” and said they will file a request for precautionary measures of protection for the migrants with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Himiob claimed that “arbitrarily and in violation of international provisions,” the 16 children and nine adults were “placed in precarious boats and returned to Venezuela.” He said in 2018 the Penal Forum intervened in another deportation case involving 80 people.

“This shows that there is a state policy of not allowing Venezuelans to enter T&T even in breach of clear international obligations on this issue because T&T has ratified the convention on the status of refugees,” he claimed.