AG insists: No refugee laws, but there are protocols
Photo: Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has refuted statements by international human rights agency Amnesty International on Trinidad and Tobago’s legal obligations to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
In a media briefing, Al-Rawi said although Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the agreement was never ratified in law. Trinidad and Tobago also acceded to the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees in November 2000.
He was speaking in response to a statement issued by Amnesty International Americas Director, Erika Guevara-Rosas, who said Al-Rawi’s statement that there are no refugee laws in Trinidad and Tobago was misguided.
Al-Rawi said Friday that although there is no legislation addressing the treatment of refugees, there are certain protocols which they adhere to.
“I want to make it abundantly clear, we have no legislation in Trinidad and Tobago, we have not ratified those Conventions yet. We’ve acceded but we’ve not ratified.
“This is not to say that morally speaking government is not doing its part. We have protocols that are exercised and must be done in conjunction with the UN agency and its agent the Living Waters, and we treat with this in the way we’re supposed to.”
He said although the act of helping refugees was ‘morally right’ legislation regarding the protection of refugees must be ‘thought through’.
“More and more people are coming and seeking access…if you turn the key and open the door are you opening a floodgate? I don’t think you could say that we’re being irresponsible. If that floodgate opens and we haven’t thought it through, we could put people in Trinidad and Tobago in a difficult position,” he said.
He also insisted that persons arriving in Trinidad and Tobago must do so legally.
Guevara-Rosas said the AG’s statement was ‘misguided’ as it suggested that Trinidad and Tobago is not legally required to establish systems for addressing the growing number of migrants and refugees entering the country.
Guevara-Rosas was speaking after 78 Cubans who were peacefully protesting outside of the United Nations office in Port of Spain were arrested and charged with obstruction.
Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, countries must uphold the process of non-refoulement, that is, refugees cannot be returned to their home countries if they are at risk of persecution.
In 2014, Trinidad and Tobago’s Cabinet adopted a national policy to address asylum and refugee matters. The policy states that recognized refugees should be entitled to a series of rights including travel documents, identity papers, authorization to work and a right to education.
In practice, those who apply for asylum or are granted refugee status are not allowed to work, leaving many destitute, and they are not permitted to send their children to school.
About the 1951 Refugee Convention
According to the Convention, contracting states shall not discriminate against refugees (Article 3) or take exceptional measures against a refugee solely on account of his or her nationality (Article 8).
Countries which have agreed to the Convention cannot force refugees to pay taxes and fiscal charges that are different to those of nationals (Article 29), or impose penalties on refugees who entered illegally in search of asylum if they present themselves (Article 31).
Contracting states cannot expel refugees (Article 32) or forcibly return or "refoul" refugees to the country they've fled from (Article 33).
It is widely accepted that the prohibition of forcible return is part of customary international law. This means that even States that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention must respect the principle of non-refoulement.
Therefore, States are obligated under the Convention and under customary international law to respect the principle of non-refoulement. If and when this principle is threatened, UNHCR can respond by intervening with relevant authorities, and if it deems necessary, will inform the public.
Contracting states must also respect a refugee's personal status and the rights that come with it, particularly rights related to marriage (Article 12).
Contracting states must also provide free access to courts for refugees (Article 16), identity papers (Article 27), travel documents (Article 28), and administrative assistance (Article 25) for refugees.
They must also provide the possibility of assimilation and naturalization to refugees (Article 34) and cooperate with the UNHCR (Article 35) in the exercise of its functions and to help UNHCR supervise the implementation of the provisions in the Convention.
Contracting states must also provide information on any national legislation they may adopt to ensure the application of the Convention (Article 36).
Contracting states can however take provisional measures against a refugee in the interest of national security, under Article 9 of the Convention.
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