Cedros Port

Attorney Nafessa Mohammed is appealing to the authorities to not deport 16 Venezuelan children including a four month old baby today on a boat from Cedros.

Mohammed is seeking to make an emergency habeus corpus application to the court today to stop the deportation.

The 16 children came to Trinidad a week ago and were held by police in Chatham.

They were taking to the Erin police station where they have been for the past week.

Today they were transported to the Cedros police station where arrangements are being made to put them on a boat and send them back to Venezuela.

Mohammed said these children have relatives in Trinidad who are registered and have Trinidad and Tobago registration cards.

She pleaded for authorities to have a heart as these children have already endured the trauma of surviving a treacherous sea journey to Trinidad and then detained at a police station for days.

" It is very disturbing to witness the State Apparatus adopting a very callous and inhumane approach in treating with minors who happen to be migrants.

It is obvious that the decision makers continue to disregard our several international obligations and international best practices that we are duty bound to follow as it relate to Refugees and Asylum Seekers," she said.

She noted that Trinidad and Tobago is the nearest geographical location to Venezuela where the political, economic and social realities have triggered a massive outflow of its population into several countries.

"We have been experiencing an influx of these irregular migrants and we are not handling the situation well. There is a need for law enforcement to balance their actions with a more humanitarian and human rights approach especially when it comes to children and women," she said to the Express by phone.

"These people are desperate and we need to come together to map out appropriate procedures and processes in keeping with best practices globally. The approach of State Officials in certain quarters is xenophobic and I know we can do better," she said.

Mohammed said she respects the work that law enforcement has to do but she also knows that a balancing act has to be done as each case is looked at on its own merit.

She said along the children are a 4 month old baby, a 2 year old, a six year old and an 8 year old.

"They should not be further traumatized by being sent back by stealth. The Government should embark on an awareness Programme and engage in dialogue with the Venezuelans to bring an end to this desperate humanitarian crisis. It should not only be about oil and money and geopolitics," she said.

Mohammed said she also wrote to Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews on November 20 appealing for the children to be released.

The letter states in part:

I write on behalf of the parents of the following children who were arrested in Chatam on the

1ih November, 2020 and taken to the Erin Police Station where they have since been detained.

I am instructed that these children and their mothers were all taken to the Siparia Health Centre where they underwent Covid-19 tests which were all negative.

I am requesting the immediate release of these minors and their mothers into the care of their next of kin whose names are written in bold letters below.

Cognizant of the political, social and economic instability in neighbouring Venezuela over the past three years and more, we are all aware of the desperate circumstances that have been causing this irregular flow of migrants into our country despite the closure of our borders.

I am instructed that these minors have been accompanied by their mothers and that their fathers have been residing in Trinidad and are the holders of Permits from the Ministry of National Security as well as UNHCR Cards or Asylum-Seeker's Certificate as the case may be.

The following are the names of the minor children and the names of their mothers who accompanied them as well as their fathers who have been residing in Trinidad: (names withheld).

These minors have been accompanied by their mothers but I have not yet received detailed instructions about their next of kin/Guardians.

Based on the circumstances of each of these children, it is my respectful view that it is in the best interests of these children to be reunited with their parents and family here in Trinidad.

The suite of Children Legislation that have been enacted in the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago expressly give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child and the reunification of children with parents and families is one of the several factors that contribute towards the best interests of children.

Some of the parents mentioned above have also been Asylum-Seekers with Certificates and/or a

UNHCR Card which is a form of identification as Refugees.

In keeping with our country's International Obligations and the International best practices that are recognized worldwide, the principles of non- refoulement and non detention are cornerstone principles of the Law of Refugees that must be respected by State Agencies.

Trinidad and Tobago has not yet enacted a dedicated Refugee Law in its Statute Books but it is widely known that there are policies that are recognized locally and internationally and there are now several leading cases decided in the Supreme Court of Justice that provide useful guidelines for administrative bodies to follow.

Accordingly, I am hereby calling upon you to exercise your powers by balancing such powers with the International humanitarian and human rights principles that are recognized globally as well as the laws in our country's Statute books and previously decided cases in our Courts of law and forthwith release these children and their mothers or next of kin.

Furthermore, if the detention of these migrants is based upon the Covid-19 Regulations and they have tested negatively, then they should all be released and allowed to go to the homes of their loved ones where they can quarantine at home instead of being quarantined in a State Facility such as the Heliport at Chaguaramas.

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