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Carol Gobin

Derek Achong

A High Court Judge has blocked the proposed deportations of five Nigerian men.

In a seven-page judgment delivered late last week, High Court Judge Carol Gobin quashed the deportation orders against George Ataine, Ugochukwu Ezenagu, Isodore Okafor, Chuwujekwu Okafor, and Osunwa Chimezie.

According to the evidence, the five men were arrested and charged with overstaying their time in T&T between 2016 and 2017.

In 2018, Onekachi Emmanuel, another Nigerian, who was arrested around the same time, filed a lawsuit challenging his deportation based on the Immigration Division’s delay in executing it.

The five men filed similar lawsuits but agreed that they would be subject to the eventual outcome in Emmanuel’s case.

In May, last year, Gobin dismissed Emmanuel’s case based on his conduct in attempting to circumvent his deportation.

However, Gobin then agreed to consider the five cases individually.

While Emmanuel’s matter was still pending, the five men were involved in an incident at the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo, which was described by authorities as a riot.

Although the men denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they were merely venting their frustration over inhumane conditions at the facility, they were still charged with a series of criminal offences.

As they were not granted bail based on their immigration status, the men were transferred from the centre to a remand facility under the control of the Prison Service.

In the judgment, Gobin noted that the division’s attorneys had suggested that the case be dismissed as they were no longer detained under its care.

“I reject this argument…The court is duty-bound to make appropriate orders which protect the constitutional rights of the claimants especially since I cannot rule out further detention by the Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) at some future date following the determination of the criminal cases, or in the event that they are allowed bail by the magistrate in the course of the proceedings,” Gobin said, as she also granted an order preventing future detention and deportation.

Gobin also noted that based on the evidence in the cases, the division had moved no closer to executing the deportations due to financial and logistical issues.

“I have concluded that there is little chance that even if the criminal cases were to collapse tomorrow, and the claimants were returned to the custody of the CIO, the deportation can be realistically achieved,” Gobin said.

Gobin also noted that while the case was at the trial stage, she raised the issue of why the group was not offered the same registration policy afforded to Venezuelan citizens, who would have broken immigration laws.

“At the end of the day, they were like our neighbours, simply seeking a better life. This was not a claim based on equality of treatment, but I considered it a relevant factor that the same benefit was not afforded to these claimants on the same humanitarian grounds,” Gobin said.

As part of her decision, Gobin dismissed the group’s claim for financial compensation and ordered that the State pay 40 per cent of the legal costs they incurred in bringing their lawsuits.

The group was represented by Criston J Williams and Shirvani Ramkissoon while Coreen Findley and Sangeeta Latchan represented the State.