National Security Minister Stuart Young said yesterday he was not aware that Venezuelan children were held and kept at a police station for five nights and then escorted out of this country on a pirogue until he was summoned to court on Sunday.
“That particular incident I was not aware of it until I was asked to attend court,” he said at a news conference at the National Security Ministry, Port of Spain.
While the Minister was speaking in Port of Spain the pirogue with the Venezuelan children and adults returned to South Trinidad. Young said he was not aware of this.
Prior to this, Young was asked whether he can give any guarantees that the children had safely returned to Venezuela.
“I can’t even give a guarantee as to who was on what vessel, where, any time like that. I was not there, I do not know anything more than what I’ve seen, read and been told,” he said.
He said Immigration was not involved in the process, and there is no record in Immigration of any persons.
Young said he is always concerned that every human being is in a safe environment.
“I didn’t put anyone on a boat, I didn’t put anyone on a boat to leave wherever they came from,” he said.
He stressed repeatedly that his job as minister is to uphold the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.
Young said the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service picked up “persons”, they were then handed over to the Coast Guard who then escorted them back out.
He said this is what he was told and he is going along with that. Young questioned how children end up here without their parents, adding that this is a typical “red flag” of human trafficking.
He said law enforcement officials are engaged in the illicit action and hopefully one day they will be brought before the court.
While the minister spoke about human trafficking, he did not say whether there was any investigation to provide any evidence to determine whether this was a human trafficking operation during the five days the children were detained in police cells in Erin.
He said if a boat load of 20 children come in and are detained an application is almost immediately made to the court.
He said there is no proof of documentation to show who these children or their parents are. Young said there is no ability for the State to then authenticate who they are and then they are then released to persons who claim to be their parents.
“I have a serious problem with that because that can be the facilitation of human trafficking,” he said.
He also said he has a “serious concern” over how quickly local attorneys get information on these illegal persons.
“I have a concern about all children regardless of their nationality but it doesn’t mean you can breach the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and we should not fall into the trap of facilitating potential human trafficking,” he said .
He said as National Security Minister he declared that any person entering Trinidad and Tobago is an “undesirable” under the laws. He said the treaties Trinidad and Tobago signed were never made domestic law.
He said persons can either be escorted back, detained or deported and he comes in when it pertains to deportation.
Told that a mother was seeking information on her child who was on the pirogue, Young said he has no information, pointing out that that in itself is a breach of the laws, as the borders are closed. He said it is illegal to put minors on a boat and send them to breach the laws here.
Protecting T&T citizens
Young said a Venezuelan who has registered status here is not above the law and cannot send for their children to join them here.
He said those found to be doing this will have their Trinidad and Tobago registration card revoked, adding this has already been done for card holders who were found to be going back and forth from Trinidad and Tobago.
He said as an additional step he made a declaration “that any illegal immigrant who enters Trinidad and Tobago is immediately an undesirable under the Immigration Act”, which allows Immigration to take action if any illegal immigrant is picked up.
He said there is one law for everyone.
The Minister said Government’s policy is to protect its citizens.
He noted T&T nationals around the world have been applying for exemptions to return home and that so far, over 7,600 exemptions have been granted.
Young said while he understands the emotions, people cannot break T&T borders and jeopardise citizens.
In response to a question, Young said some skilled Venezuelan workers employed in the manufacturing and oil and gas sector were given exemptions to enter Trinidad.