Update: Venezuelan asylum seekers' U.N. IDs 'taken' by immigration
Update December 21, 2018, 10:30 am:
In what seems to be a Christmas nightmare, two Venezuelan women who were allegedly abducted and held in a house in Rio Claro have now had their valid UNHCR asylum seeker identification cards 'taken' by immigration officials.
The women, who reside with a relative in North Trinidad, have not yet been seen by a doctor, LoopTT was told by a reliable source.
The traumatic account was related by the source, who was able to use GPS positioning to contact police to help with their rescue after they were kidnapped and held in a house in Rio Claro.
However, after the women were rescued by officers of the Rio Claro Police Station on December 15, 2018, they were held at the station, allegedly while officers waited for translators.
Five days later, with no explanation, their U.N.-issued identification cards, which are valid until December 2019, were allegedly taken from them.
"They took their ID cards...confiscated them...they won't be released before Christmas now," the source said.
The women are now being represented by Nanans Attorneys-at-Law, who intend to pursue legal action.
A draft policy document entitled "A Phased Approach to Towards the Establishment of a National Policy to Address Refugee and Asylum Matters in Trinidad and Tobago", outlines a principle of non-detention, that is, not imposing penalties on account of the illegal entry or presence of refugees.
As per Article 21 of the 1951 Convention, an asylum seeker or refugee can only be detained 1) to verify identity, 2) to determine their claim for refugee status 3) in cases where their identity or travel documents were destroyed and 4) to protect national security and public order.
The asylum seeker should be given the reason for detention and should be given the ability to challenge the detention order.
The document also identifies the principle of non-refoulement, that is, not returning refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they may be in danger.
Attorney Jevvon Williams said during a public forum in June 2018 that officials in Trinidad and Tobago were confiscating asylum seekers' documents and destroying them.
Williams added that the courts also have been known to issue orders to forcibly deport asylum seekers which is a violation of the protocols of the 1951 Convention, to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said to media earlier this year that government has not implemented refugee laws in Trinidad and Tobago, but said there are protocols agreed to between the State and UNHCR.
LoopTT has reached out to the Ministry of National Security and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for comment.
Kidnapped and locked in a Rio Claro house, two women were rescued by the police – only for them to be detained indefinitely.
The women, who are Venezuelan asylum seekers with valid certificates, were reportedly abducted and taken to a house in Rio Claro over the weekend.
A relative of one of the women told LoopTT that the girls were able to use WiFi to send their general location, which was sent to the police. However, when police rescued the women, the suspects were allegedly released and the women detained.
The source said the women, who reside in North Trinidad, were held at the station in order for an interpreter to be brought and although no charges were laid, they were detained at the station indefinitely since Saturday.
The source contacted the United Nations office of Trinidad and Tobago and efforts were made to reach out to the Rio Claro Police Station, however, they were told this was now an ‘immigration matter’. No timeline was given as to when the women would be released.
The source, who has sought legal counsel through Nanans Attorneys at Law, said the situation was not only traumatic for the women but unjust as they are not criminals but victims.
He added that the women suffered bruises and other injuries from their ordeal, but the full extent was not known as they were not taken to a doctor.
“It’s almost Christmas and I have been here since Saturday trying to speak with officers for them to release them. They have done nothing wrong, in fact they are the victims here, they have been mentally and physically traumatised."
“Why were the suspects released?” He asked.
A representative from the United Nations office in Trinidad and Tobago said to LoopTT that although an asylum seeker certificate allows for freedom of movement, immigration officers may verify that the certificate is valid by contacting the UN office. She said there is no set time limit for this process.
She was not sure if the women would be released by Christmas Day.
LoopTT spoke with Inspector Garcia of the Rio Claro Police Station who said that translators needed in order to assist with the investigation, however, due to another assignment, they were delayed. He said they would be able to assist by midday Thursday.
The relative said he will be seeking legal redress on the inconvenience suffered as a result of this.
“These two people are asylum seekers and are registered with the UNHCR. They were also given an identity card which would permit them to move around freely in Trinidad.”
“The Rio Claro Police Station is handling this very unprofessionally. It’s a human life and these refugees are to be treated as people and not dogs. This is unacceptable,” he said.
A recent report by the office of the Colombian Attorney General related information from women who said they had been lured to Trinidad and Tobago on the pretence of office jobs and then forced into prostitution.
LoopTT has reached out to the Ministry of National Security, which oversees the Immigration Division.