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Faris Al-Rawi

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi says Justice Frank Seepersad’s ruling in a case against an 11-year-old Venezuelan girl may be a victory which he takes no pleasure in. However, he said it was important in the context of the state being able to uphold Trinidad and Tobago’s laws going forward.

Seepersad yesterday refused to grant an injunction barring the State from deporting the girl pending the determination of a substantive legal challenge on her right to stay in T&T while seeking refugee status.

The girl, whose mother is also in the country illegally, was part of a group of migrants who returned to T&T last week after initially being deported days before and is currently in quarantine at the Chaguaramas Heliport.

Lawyers representing her and 28 other migrants are currently challenging the state’s right to deport them since they entered the country illegally.

However, Seepersad rejected submissions from the legal team over the effect of the 2014 Draft Policy on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, noting it was approved by Cabinet but not Parliament. He also said the Government was free to change its policy due to prevailing circumstances, including the current situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commenting hours after the ruling, Al-Rawi noted that at the end of the day, Seepersad may have had no choice but to rule in that state’s favour after weighing the issues.

“In settling the law, the judge recognised that there is a balancing act, there is a consideration as to the international perspective against our local laws and the supremacy of our Consitution and that in the context, there is a need to uphold the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and those laws, very importantly are, that you ought not to enter this country illegally,” Al-Rawi told Guardian Media.

“The judge didn’t say this but I’ll add this now, particularly when there is a lawful mechanism of entering. It is wide open to anyone seeking to enter this country, in this case from Venezuela, to apply for a visa to enter the country.

“Visas are not denied as a matter of course or fact, there is a process by which one can engage in this and therefore the judgement is particularly important in settling the fact that we must uphold the law so that we avoid the dangers of illegality. Those dangers include trafficking in person, exposing persons to harm or risk in passage and most certainly the judge focussed upon a very clear distinction, the difference between economic migration on the one hand and refugee and asylum seeker status on the other hand.”

Saying there was a significant risk of trafficking in persons and trafficking in children in these cases, Al-Rawi said his heart still went out to children who are placed in jeopardy by the actions of adults.

But he said the judgement was important to settling the issue of the law as it relates to how the state deals with illegal migrants.

“All in all, this is an important decision for settling the law in the larger context,” the AG said.

“Whilst it is certainly a very clear legal victory, I take no comfort in that aspect of the word victory because of the circumstances of this case and in particular because of the human factors involved in the general situation. But I am duty-bound, as is my colleague the Minister of National Security and is the Prime Minister to uphold, all of of us, are bound to uphold the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.”