A High Court Judge has ordered the immediate release of 10 minors and four of their mothers from a migrant detention centre at the T&T Coast Guard’s Heliport in Chaguaramas.
Delivering a decision at the end of an emergency hearing yesterday, Justice Joan Charles ordered their release as she noted this country’s immigration laws and policies do not provide for the detention and deportation of children.
As the minors had to be released into the custody of relatives, Charles also had to order the release of some of their mothers, who were also detained awaiting deportation.
Guardian Media understands that some of the children, whose parents and relatives are registered migrants, were detained alongside the mothers and their children as they made the journey to Trinidad together and were caught by police in south Trinidad soon after. Those children were expected to be released into the custody of their parents or relatives who pursued the litigation.
Legal sources told Guardian Media that over the past two weeks, over a dozen migrant children and parents have been released after bringing similar cases. The legal sources said while the centre may still be housing more refugee children and their parents, they cannot be released unless they bring a lawsuit and have it considered by a judge.
Although media personnel were not allowed to join the virtual hearing because minors were involved, Guardian Media understands lawyers representing the Chief of Defence Staff claimed the decision may serve to encourage more illegal immigration from Venezuela.
The children’s lawyers suggested that the situation had to be rectified, as it amounted to cruelty and could affect this country’s international reputation. They also stated that the trauma from being detained at a young age could affect the children psychologically.
Charles agreed and made the order, as she expressed concern over whether the children were being held with non-familiar adults.
“More needs to be done…This situation must be rectified and proper procedure and policy must be made so as to facilitate the release of these children from custody,” Charles said.
As part of her orders, Charles directed that the Children’s Authority perform an assessment of the homes the children and adults would be going to and report back to her in 21 days.
The decision in the case came hours after National Security Minister Stuart Young highlighted the facility as part of Government’s efforts to tackle illegal immigration humanely and safely. Young also noted the facility was built with assistance from the United States government.
“Anyone who is suggesting that these are inhumane facilities and that is being suggested right now in the courts, that these facilities are not suitable, I have visited the facilities at the Heliport and they are very suitable facilities,” Young said.
“We are not putting people in inhumane or risky situations.”
The children were represented by Criston J Williams, Jerome Riley and Kerrina Samdeo. Deputy Solicitor General Neal Byam represented the Office of the Attorney General and Sharlene Jaggernauth the Children’s Authority.