2926326
Venezuelans at the Cedros port of entry before being sent back home on Sunday.

Derek Achong

A group of Venezuelan migrant women and children, who were deported from Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday morning although legal proceedings were pending, could not be returned to this country pursuant to a court order yesterday.

When the case was called virtually before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams yesterday, Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, who led the legal team for several Government ministries and agencies, indicated that the group could not be returned as ordered as they were already on La Barra Isle, which is located in Venezuelan territorial waters.

Armour also explained that their current location meant that the habeas corpus lawsuit challenging their detention by State officials, could not continue as the court no longer had the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed, who led the migrants’ legal team, repeatedly pleaded with Armour ask his clients, which included the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of National Security, to communicate with Venezuelan authorities to help facilitate the group’s return her so the case could be heard.

Mohammed said she was disheartened by the conduct of State officials in the case, as based on her information two civilian vessels with the 16 minors and three adults were afloat near the T&T/Venezuela maritime boarder when Quinlan-Williams made her order for them to return on Sunday evening. She said she even personally called the T&T Coast Guard after midnight on Sunday to give them the vessels’ locations at that time, as they were reportedly running low on fuel.

“The Coast Guard would have had ample opportunity to make contact with the captains to have the children returned to comply with this court’s order,” she said.

Mohammed also called for the State’s intervention on humanitarian grounds.

“These technicalities do not take into account the best interests of the children,” Mohammed said, as she noted that the children’s parents, who registered to live and work in T&T under a Government programme last year, were worried as they were unsure of the children’s current whereabouts and wellbeing.

Mohammed noted that one parent was able to speak to her young son, who claimed he had not had anything to eat or drink since leaving Trinidad and was constantly vomiting due to rough seas.

Responding to the submissions, Armour said the court had to dismiss the case as it was limited to the detention of the migrants by State agencies. He also said the course of action suggested by Mohammed would not be possible in the current circumstances.

“Their detention is no longer a live issue,” Armour said.

Quinlan-Williams eventually agreed with Armour and dismissed the case.

Despite the outcome of the case, Mohammed still requested that the State pay her clients’ legal costs for the short-lived lawsuit.

In response, Armour noted that his clients were entitled to request the same from the children’s relatives, as they essentially lost the lawsuit. However, he said his clients were waiving their right to make such a claim as they recognised the legitimate humanitarian issues in the case.

“My clients are not inhumane,” Armour said.

Attorney Yohann Niles, who represented Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, also suggested all the parties bear their own legal costs based on the nature of the case.

Quinlan-Williams also agreed and so ordered.

The group 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 deportation on Sunday. The migrants were placed on two civilian vessels and escorted out of T&T waters by the Coast Guard.

The State was also represented by Raphael Adjodha, Kendra Mark and Tenille Ramkissoon, while Jerome Riley appeared alongside Mohammed for the migrants.