Venezuelan children were kept in cells at police stations when they were detained in South Trinidad last Wednesday.
The children range from four months old to 17 years, with the majority under the age of ten years.
In response to questions from the Express, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) stated yesterday that the police do not have facilities to house children and therefore they were placed in cells.
The TTPS outlined what happened when they intercepted the boat with the Venezuelan children last Wednesday. They have since been deported.
It stated based on information from the Radar Centre of a suspected vessel, police officers went to Chatham Beach on November 17 where they observed a boat on the shore and people disembarking.
When officers intervened, a number of men ran into the forest, police said.
It stated police then detained seven males, five females and 15 children.
“A search was conducted and two additional males, all Venezuelan nationals, were detained. Twenty-nine persons were detained in total,” stated the TTPS.
The TTPS added that the boat was seized and with the assistance of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard was removed to the Cedros Coast Guard Facility.
The 29 Venezuelan nationals were then taken to the Siparia Health Facility where they were medically examined.
The TTPS stated communication was then made with the Covid Response Unit at the Chaguaramas Heliport, where personnel indicated the facility was at capacity and they could not accept the 29 Venezuelan immigrants as is the procedure.
No accommodation for children
Police said interviews were conducted with the aid of an interpreter and it was discovered 13 of the children were accompanied by family members within the group.
It stated a 12-year-old female and a 13-year-old male were unaccompanied, but were expected to communicate with relatives already in Trinidad.
“In the interim, an adult male and a 17-year-old juvenile were checked at the Penal Police Station and the other children and the females were kept at the Erin Police Station. There are no facilities at any of these stations to house illegal immigrants so they were kept in cells and provided with meals facilitated by the TTPS caterer,” stated the TTPS.
The TTPS also responded to questions as to how the children were deported on Saturday.
It stated that on November 21 the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force (TTDF) requested that the 29 Venezuelan immigrants be taken to the Cedros Police Station, where they were subsequently handed over to the TTDF for repatriation.
“This was done at 9.25 a.m. on Sunday, November 22, 2020 by Cpl Chase, as revealed in the Handover Form. The handover was done before any writ of habeas corpus was filed and/or served,” stated the TTPS.
Mohammed: Sinister move
Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed said yesterday the authorities pulled a “sinister” move to deport the children before the court matter was heard.
Mohammed noted that Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams said she did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the matter anymore because a writ of habeas corpus is a very narrow procedure in court.
“The fact that the State put in an affidavit today (Monday) that said that yesterday (Saturday) the Coast Guard would have put the children on the pirogues and they escorted them out of the territorial waters of Trinidad and Tobago so as a result she ruled she did not have jurisdiction,” she said.
Mohammed said the relatives of the children who are here in Trinidad still do not have information as to where they are.
She said there was information that they may be on a little island called La Barra.
“We don’t know what is the truth of that matter and if even they are out there God alone knows what will happen in terms of their well being,” she said.
“I think the State is trying not to open up a flood gate in these matters but at the end of the day it does put into the spotlight the need to refine our procedures and processes when dealing with these matters, especially when children are involved,” she said.
She said there are some established procedures that are recognised worldwide but T&T authorities are not complying with those best practices and this needs to be addressed.
“There ought to be an investigation, when those children were put into the police station, that whole legality of the detention and how they handled it needs to be investigated. They got those children out of our waters before the matter could have been dealt with in court. It was very sinister, deliberate and calculating and it leaves a lot to be desired,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed said there is need for proper policies to treat with refugees and not have the level of heartlessness that is taking place now.
She said it is unacceptable that these children were kept in cells.