FLASHBACK - A police officer directs Venezuelan refugees to a bus after their arrival at Los Iros beach, Erin, on Tuesday 24 November 2020. (Image: RISHI RAGOONATH)

Attorney-at-Law Nafessa Mohammed says while there are provisions in the Immigration Act that gives the National Security Minister the power to treat with illegal immigrants, legislative changes can ensure it is more humane in operation.

Her comments come as a group of Venezuelan immigrants—including children—were repatriated to Venezuela after arriving illegally into the country, last week.  

“From Section 10 onwards in the Immigration Act, it gives the power to the minister—whoever is responsible for the Immigration Division—the power to treat with each case in a manner where he can grant a permit,” she explains.

The group of Venezuelans are being represented by attorney Gerald Ramdeen.  Their case was in the process of being heard in the High Court when they were sent back.  A high court judge then ordered that the Venezuelans be returned to Trinidad.

Nafeesa Mohammed argues measures can be taken to ensure that illegal immigrants are treated with dignity.

“I am of the view that our Minister of National Security has the power to immediately revisit what is existing at present, because there is a Refugee Unit in the Immigration Division.  And from previously decided cases of law, they can tweak the system a little bit, to ensure that there is a healthy balance between the humanitarian and human rights considerations, with the law enforcement aspect of it,” she states.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi has pointed out that this country has not enacted the international Treaty on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which impacts how it can treat with the Venezuelan situation.

But Nafeesa Mohammed says this country has certain obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

She also notes there also are Cabinet Minutes from June 2006 concerning the Transnational Organised Crime Convention, which the AG can reference, and which contain guidelines and precedence for dealing with these types of situations.

And she argues that one key remedy would be for him to have Parliament pass into law, the draft Refugee Bill currently in the AG’s Office.

“There is a draft Refugee Bill in his office that would have emanated from since 2014 or thereabouts,” she says.  “This would help greatly with managing the influx and flow of refugees into our borders.”