Port-of-Spain, Trinidad (Amnesty International) – The return of at least 16 children and an estimated 12 adults to Trinidad following their deportation to Venezuela on 22 November gives the authorities of Trinidad and Tobago a second chance to uphold their domestic and international obligations to provide protection for people seeking safety from danger, said the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Refugees International and 14 other organizations in an open letter to Prime Minister Keith Rowley on Wednesday.
“We are relieved that the 16 children and estimated 12 adults are back in Trinidad. The authorities must now reunite the returned children with their families without delay, grant them access to apply for asylum, screen to determine if they have been trafficked, and provide them with medical attention,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
According to initial information available, at least some of the children who returned to Trinidad on 24 November had family already registered there with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), making it even more necessary for the authorities to have given them access to asylum procedures, according to the country’s obligations under international law.
In a press conference on 24 November, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of National Security seemed to suggest that they may have been trafficked, underlining the need for them to be screened in compliance with the nation’s Trafficking in Person’s Act to identify potential trafficking victims, and to provide them with protection and reparation.
Reports indicate that some 50 children have been deported this year, despite the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires countries to act in their best interest and refrain from detaining them or deporting them to situations where they could face ill-treatment or danger.
The Minister of National Security also indicated that the children were being held by authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even amidst the pandemic, many countries have successfully kept access to asylum open while also following strict health protocols. The pandemic cannot be used as an excuse to deny safety to those who need it most.
As indicated by 25 human rights organizations in a previous open letter to Prime Minister Rowley, Venezuelans are fleeing grave human rights violations that a recent UN-appointed Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela has stated could amount to crimes against humanity. This, combined with an ongoing humanitarian crisis, means they will continue to seek international protection/asylum outside their country, even in a pandemic. Trinidad and Tobago must find ways to grant legal residency for Venezuelans through re-opening the registration process, or passing national refugee legislation which would facilitate its compliance with international law.
“As Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis continues to worsen, governments have an obligation to help those seeking protection abroad — even amid a pandemic,” said Aviva Shwayder, communications officer at Refugees International. “Starting with the reunification of these children with their families, the government of Trinidad and Tobago can and must do better for displaced people within its borders.”