Dillon: Three Venezuelans had asylum seeker certificates
Photo: A military aircraft arrived on Saturday, April 21, 2018, to airlift 82 Venezuelan nationals back to their home country. Government said all 82 nationals agreed to return and were not forced, however the UN Refugee Agency expressed concern over the matter.
National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said three Venezuelans had obtained Asylum Seeker Certificates but 'abandoned their asylum claims' before they returned to Venezuela.
Speaking in response to an urgent question in the Senate on Tuesday, Dillon said that of the 82 Venezuelans who were repatriated to their home country on Saturday, three had asylum seeker certificates.
The questions were raised after the UN Refugee Agency expressed concern over the way in which 82 Venezuelan nationals 'voluntarily' returned to their home country via a Venezuelan military aircraft on Saturday.
“Three of the voluntary repatriates applied for and obtained asylum seeker certificates from UNHCR but expressly abandoned their asylum claims in writing via the UNHCR’s agent, the Living Waters Community."
“These persons also expressly and voluntarily agreed to their repatriation on two separate occasions which were recorded,” he said.
When asked whether any translation services and legal advice had been provided for these Venezuelan nationals, Dillon replied that the Venezuelan Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Coromoto Godoy provided assistance.
“The Venezuelan citizens were counselled by the Ambassador of Venezuela to Trinidad and Tobago. She dealt with matters pertaining to that,” he said.
Dillon emphasised that the Venezuelans were not deported and that his Ministry along with the Attorney General is liaising with the UNHCR on the issue.
“Citizens were not deported, it was a voluntary departure…the Ministry of National Security continues to hold discussions with the UNHCR representative in Trinidad and Tobago. Between the Attorney General and the Ministry of National Security we continue to hold discussions with the UNHCR resident here in Trinidad and Tobago," he said.
He agreed to supply all details regarding the repatriation, subject to Cabinet’s approval.
1951 Refugee Convention not ratified in T&T
Senator Wade Mark also asked whether, given the concerns raised by the United Nations, what is in place to protect asylum seekers in Trinidad and Tobago.
Dillon replied that although Trinidad and Tobago signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol in 2000, the legislation relating to this has not yet been ratified.
“Trinidad and Tobago acceded to the 1951 (Refugee) Convention and the 1967 Protocols relating to the status of refugees in 2000.”
“It is to be noted that only the United Kingdom thus far, has ratified this; no other country has done that. And therefore Trinidad and Tobago has not enacted those laws within the domestic legislation of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Dillon added that “standard operating procedures” are in place to deal with requests for asylum, which include the processing of applications for claims to the UNHCR through the Living Waters Community, via the Immigration Division.
“All applicants are required to obey the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. The UNHCR informs the Immigration Division of application and persons who may be put under orders of supervision, that is, after UNHCR has gone through its processes.”
He said the UNHCR carries out an investigation to determine whether the applicant expresses a fear of returning to their home country or last residence based on a “well-founded fear of persecution, that is, reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” before they can qualify as an asylum seeker.
He said the investigation is done within a three-week period. Applicants are accommodated by the UNHCR’s representative, the Living Waters Community.
“Compliance with the laws of Trinidad and Tobago is mandatory,” he said.
The UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, said in a statement Monday that the ‘forced return’ of Venezuelans is of great concern.
In March, the agency reported a 2,000 percent increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking asylum worldwide since 2014.
Türk called on Trinidad and Tobago to continue to abide by its international obligations, which requests signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence”, to people who are in need of international protection.
The UNHCR said it will continue working closely with government to “complement its efforts aimed at developing, strengthening and implementing its asylum policy, as well as to support host communities while offering guidance and assistance to people in need of international protection”.
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