Only four children picked up by the police within recent times are engaging the attention of the Children’s Authority.
This was confirmed following a Guardian Media report in which police sources say they have seen an increase in unaccompanied Venezuelan minors coming to the southwestern peninsula.
Responding to the story, the authority said it had no information that applications for refugee status by unaccompanied Venezuelan minors were being fast-tracked by the UNHCR, noting: “such claims were exaggerated.”
“While the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago is contacted when migrant children are located, the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Division works with the Venezuelan Embassy, to identify the children and where possible unite them with their relatives,” the authority said in a statement.
It noted: “The authority has no knowledge of any fast-tracking of refugee statuses for children. At this time, the authority is aware of four children who are in the care of the Fyzabad and Siparia Police Stations. Relatives have been identified and the relevant protocols are being observed to ensure the safety and protection of the children.”
“In instances where Venezuelan children have been unaccompanied and the children have requested to return home, the authority, the Venezuelan Embassy and the Immigration Division would engage with the Child Protection Agency in Venezuela, to work towards reuniting the children with their families in Venezuela.”
The Children’s Authority also said it will continue to work with all stakeholders “to defend and support child rights and make child protection everybody’s business.”
However, the president of the Family Planning Association and Dean at the Faculty of Law Professor Rosemarie Belle Antoine, as well as the president of the La Romaine Migrant Support group Angie Ramnarine, corroborated the police reports of an increase in children coming to the peninsula.
Antonie said she visited Icacos twice in the past month and noticed “many, many children.”
She said this had prompted the Family Planning Association to expand its services to include paediatrician care. She said apart from the children who come to T&T unaccompanied, women are coming to Trinidad pregnant and others get pregnant when they arrive here.
While there is no proof that children were sent unaccompanied because of the fast-tracking of applications, Antoine said because of the desperation faced by the Venezuelans this was a possibility.
Last week, at a UWI virtual seminar, legal officer at Living Waters Community Ganesh Rampersad said the processing of refugee documents for unaccompanied children is often fast-tracked and assistance given to the migrants.
A list of 22 people arrested by police at Beach Camp, Palo Seco last Sunday showed a two-year-old and three teenagers.