Tuesday 29 September, 2020

Amnesty International slams AG Al-Rawi on asylum issue

Cuban refugees outside UN Building in Port-of-Spain carrying out protest action.

Cuban refugees outside UN Building in Port-of-Spain carrying out protest action.

Human rights body, Amnesty International, is calling on Trinidad and Tobago to stop criminalizing the peaceful protest of migrants and refugees but rather, find human rights-based solutions for them consistent with its existing obligations under international law.

This comes after the arrest of 78 Cubans who were later charged with obstruction of the free passageway on November 16, under the Summary of Offences Act. The Cubans were staging a peaceful, silent protest outside the UN House in Port of Spain. They were sentenced to two days in prison.

Amnesty International Americas Director, Erika Guevara-Rosas, issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the issue.

She is criticising Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who said there were no refugee laws in T&T following the arrest.

When asked if Trinidad and Tobago was in discussions with the Cuban authorities to deport the Cubans, the Attorney General had said that the Minister of National Security was the lead on that issue.

Guevara-Rosas says the AG’s response suggests that T&T is not yet legally required to establish systems for addressing the growing number of migrants and refugees’ reaching the Caribbean island as it has not ratified the UN Refugee Convention.

She says the AG is, however, misguided.

“The Attorney General is mistaken in his understanding of Trinidad and Tobago’s obligations under international law. Having acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country is bound by international law to uphold the terms of these treaties. This means it must respect the fundamental human right to seek asylum and never return people to countries where their lives or freedom are at risk.”

Trinidad and Tobago is party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which the country acceded to in November 2000. However, there is no law that governs how T&T ought to treat with refugees.

In spite of this, Amnesty International says Trinidad and Tobago has an obligation to the UN treaty.

“Although Trinidad and Tobago has not yet adopted national legislation to guide its treatment of people in need of international protection, it is a rule of customary international law that a state may not invoke the provisions of its internal law, or lack thereof, to justify its failure to uphold the terms of a treaty.”

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.

The Cubans arrested had been protesting this situation.

“By criminalizing migrants and refugees who were protesting the country’s very failure to uphold human rights, the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago are taking a short-sighted approach to the growing numbers of people reaching their shores in need of international protection,” Guevara-Rosas said.

“Rather than locking up people who only want to rebuild their lives in safety, the authorities should build on the nation’s existing policy on asylum and refugees and put in place legislation to help it fulfil its existing obligations under international law,” she added.

International law establishes that states must not return people to countries where their life or freedom would be threatened, or where they could be subject to torture or other human rights violations.

However, in April, Trinidad and Tobago deported over 80 Venezuelans, potentially in violation of international law.

Almost all states in Latin America have national legislation on refugees.


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