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Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.

A High Court Judge has awarded $500,000 in compensation to an illegal immigrant from Gambia, who was detained for over a year after his deportation failed in 2018.

Delivering a judgement during a virtual hearing, yesterday morning, Justice Frank Seepersad ordered the compensation for Mustapha Touray as he ruled that the Immigration Division improperly detained him after he returned to this country in April 2018.

Seepersad suggested that the division should have released Touray on an order of supervision if it could not successfully deport him within a reasonable time of his initial botched deportation.

“Although the evidence suggests that the Claimant, intentionally flouted the immigration laws, under the law, the State is bound to strictly comply with the statutory requirements, as they stand,” Seepersad said.

He noted that while Touray claimed between $1.2 million and $1.5 million in compensation, he (Touray) was not entitled to such a high figure as his claims over the conditions of his detention at the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo were overstated, exaggerated and not unique to him.

“It is surprising that the welfare of his family bothered him when he elected to come here, where he had no relatives, relations or work permit and he consciously decided to disregard the laws of the Republic of T&T,” Seepersad said.

In his judgement, Seepersad noted that his handling of the case was affected by the fact the State attorneys did not file a defence to the lawsuit and did not attend yesterday’s hearing, which was meant to be for the trial of the case.

“It is unfortunate that the State has abdicated its responsibility to assist the court and it did not file a defence nor was explanation proffered as to what are the operative circumstances which militated against the claimant’s deportation and why a decision was taken to detain him at taxpayers expense for over 400 days,” he said.

Despite his judgement, Seepersad noted that based on experience in similar cases, the division has issues in deporting illegal immigrants from Africa as there are no direct flights from this country and expensive charters are often required to accommodate large groups.

He suggested that amendments be made to this country’s immigration laws and policies to reduce illegal immigration from those countries and address corresponding issues with deportation.

“The laws are woefully inadequate and do not effectively address the evident reality that this Republic is faced with a worrying migrant mess,” Seepersad said.

He suggested bonds to cover return airfare and agreements with those countries with visa-free travel to T&T that they would bear the costs of deporting its citizens may be suitable.

“The legislature may also wish to pursue criminalising the engagement of work by illegal immigrants so that persons engaged in same can be arrested and charged separate and apart from immigration proceedings,” Seepersad said.

“With alarming regularity, many illegal immigrants are hired but exploited and in the ensuing vicious cycle, their rights are eviscerated while law-abiding citizens also suffer as they remain unemployed,” he added.

According to the evidence in the case, Touray entered the country in March 2017 and was issued with a deportation order several months later.

The division attempted to deport Touray in April 2018 but he was returned to this country as he was refused entry into Turkey, which was being used as a transit point on his journey back to his country.

Touray spent over a year in detention before he was released on a supervision order in 2019, after filing a separate lawsuit against the division’s delay in executing his deportation.

As part of the judgement in the case, Seepersad ordered the State to pay Touray’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.

Touray was represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Umesh Maharaj, and Dayadai Harripaul.