Monday 30 March, 2020

Dillon: Legislation coming to help refugees, asylum seekers

National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said government is creating policies for the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Trinidad and Tobago. 

Speaking in Senate in response to questions put forward by Opposition Senator Wade Mark, Dillon said a policy is being developed which involves training for officers within the Immigration Division as well as a policy regarding migrant labour.

"The government of Trinidad and Tobago is currently drafting legislation to deal with the issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers. The legislation is being informed by the national policy to address refugee and asylum matters. This policy is currently being reviewed in order to improve the efficacy of government organisation apparatus."

"Additionally, in the absence of legislation, the Ministry of National Security developed interim Standing Operating Procedures for treating with refugees and asylum seekers."

"These SOPs guide the actions of the Immigration Division's collaboration with the UNHCR and the Living Waters Community," he said.

Dillon added that a Refugee Unit was established within the Division which is working closely with officials of the UNHCR to train immigration officers and establish protocols to govern all administration processes.

Dillon said the Ministry of Labour and Small Development is also drafting a policy to assist migrant workers.

"With respect to the issue of migrant labour, the Ministry of Labour and Small Development is currently drafting a labour migration policy that will treat with these issues."

"The government is committed to finalising legislation concerning issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers within a reasonable time. However in light of the need for stakeholder engagement and thorough analysis required to treat with this issue, it will be difficult to provide a fixed date of completion at this time," he said. 

Dillon's comments come after reports that some refugees and asylum seekers have had their asylum seeker certificates destroyed by police officers, while others have been forcibly deported to their home countries, which is a direct violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Trinidad and Tobago is a contracting party.

Trinidad and Tobago was one of the last countries to accept the 1951 Refugee Convention on asylum seekers, having only passed the requisite legislation in 2000. Belize was one of the first countries to accept refugees in 1984.

Three other CARICOM countries - Barbados, Guyana and Grenada, still have not adopted the Convention.


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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