Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

While the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has engaged in ­humanitarian measures to support asylum seekers and refugees, they have been engaging in hostile rhetoric towards the asylum seekers and towards civil society and international organisations involved in the ­response. Civil society is also not allowed access to immigration detention and when persons are detained, they (civil society and international organisations) are not notified.

This was the last paragraph in a 12-page report which was submitted at the last hearing of such matters by the Inter-American Committee on Human Rights.

It ended a damning report on the attitude and the methods of the Government in Port of Spain, in which the agency called on the ICHR to seek permission to visit the country, expressly to try and see for itself.

The complaint was laid on October 26. It accused the Government, inter alia, of wrongly, deliberately using the Immigration Act as a counter-strike against its implied obligations under the protocols attaching to the 1951 Convention on Refugees.

“The strict application of the Immigration Act renders all persons entering irregularly, as illegal and provides justification based on this interpretation to detain and charge them and treat them as criminals and consequently issue deportation ­order,” the CCHR has protested.

Weeks later, the man appointed as the US Special Envoy on Haitian refu­gees said this: “By not giving people due process, we are breaking international law and convention.” He was accusing the very administration which appointed him of inhumane treatment against would-be Haitian refugees.

Dan Foote then went on to resign the position in the process. To be sure, some of his former colleagues in the Biden administration accused him of misrepresenting his action in leaving the position. He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure, and chose to resign instead, one State Department official said. Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Foote “never once raised concerns” during his tenure, before his departure.

The opposite is the case here, however, with the CCHR and other associated civil society agencies raising their voices louder and louder, with little to no official response. They have asked the Government in this latest attempt at naming and shaming to “strengthen its co-operation with the various stakeholders engaged in the response to the arrivals of refugees and migrants, so as to develop a safer, more humane and co-ordinated system to manage migration in Trinidad and Tobago”.

Both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Security have received copies of a list of ten specific indictments in the report, against the Government’s strategy for dealing with migrants and refugees.

While the Foreign Affairs Minister has said, from his position, this is more of a matter for National Security, that minister is yet to acknowledge receipt of same.

Some of the complaints in this document make for decidedly disturbing reading. They cry out for proper consideration, and corrective action, where there may be corroboration.

Decrying the continued placing of would-be migrants and intended refugees in State detention centres, the CCHR said it had information, up to last May, by female migrants complaining of having been subject to sexual abuse. The report reveals that the Heliport at Chaguaramas is being used as a detention centre itself. Detainees, this document says, have complained about the poor quality of food and water, about cramped conditions and inadequate medical conditions. The document reports what it says are suggestions that the Venezuelan government is involved in supporting the operations of the Heliport as a detention centre. This, therefore, appears as a highly irregular practice.

You would be forgiven for looking on this state of affairs as sinister, to the extent that an independent assessment may be necessary to bear them out.

Recent reports suggest that the State is detaining and deporting persons instead of allowing them to be released on an Order of Supervision, this elaborate statement of complaint continues to lament. It says further, it is unclear if such persons are returned via voluntary repatriation, and equally unclear also, if they agreed to do this with the support of an interpreter, and if they were fully apprised as to what they are agreeing to.

These purported indictment therefore comes forward as variations to what ought to be accepted practice and procedure for the conduct of such matters. The CCHR is staking its reputation and its trustworthiness in making these damning accusations and allegations against the state. It is doing so against the clear and present reality that it has to work with the Government in matters of the sort.

While this matter simmers, a brand new case has landed on our doorsteps. Attorneys are in court as we speak, on behalf of five Cameroon citizens, who claim torture and threats on their lives, just for living in the wrong neighbourhood in their own country.

—Andy Johnson is

a veteran journalist.

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