With the Government continuing to receive criticism for its decision to deport 16 Venezuelan children over the weekend, some allegedly without their parents, National Security Minister Stuart Young yesterday defended the decision, saying the migrants broke laws when they entered T&T without visas or exemptions for COVID-19.
However, he still claimed he had no evidence the allegations made by people representing the group were true.
“That particular incident, I was not aware of it until I was asked to attend court that night, and even then, I wasn’t allowed to ask questions. Right now, for me, a lot of that is speculation,” Young said at a press conference in Port-of-Spain yesterday.
“Trinidad and Tobago, I assume, did what it was supposed to do in accordance with the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, and the persons were returned to Venezuela.”
Despite the condemnation of the act from some quarters, Young said his understanding of what occurred was that a group of Venezuelan nationals were re-escorted across the border after initially being held by police and handed over to Coast Guard officials. Saying he understood the emotion surrounding the story, Young insisted he had little-to-no substantial information about those deported last weekend.
“I don’t know if it’s 14, 10, or if it’s 22. It’s only what we see reported,” he said.
“I have a concern about all children, regardless of nationality, but it doesn’t mean you can break the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and we should not fall into the trap of facilitating human trafficking.”
Any time children are brought into the country without their parents, he said, it’s a red flag of human trafficking.
Asked whether he had authorised the removal of the children, he claimed he did not. Young noted that not all illegal migrants are removed through deportation, before adding he didn’t know the process that was used in this particular case.
Pressed further by reporters, he insisted he did not have the relevant information but added Government has a mandate to protect the nation’s borders for the benefit of its citizens.
On Monday, Guardian Media interviewed Venezuelan migrant Gregoria Figueredo, who claimed her 11-year-old daughter was one of the children aboard the boat that took the migrants back over the weekend. Asked if he could provide any information as to where the child and the group had ended up yesterday, Young said he could not.
“As the minister, now I am being asked what has happened with her. Where is the responsibility of that mother, is that a situation you should put your child into? That’s not for me to judge,” he said.
“I can’t even give a guarantee as to who was on that vessel, where, anything like that. I was not there. I don’t know anything more than what I’ve seen and read,” Young said of the deportation earlier.
The issue was yesterday raised by head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) Juan Guaidó, who called for an investigation into the deportation.
During the press conference, Young also raised questions about the involvement of some lawyers in immigration matters. The questions were raised in the context of human trafficking, which he admitted was going on in T&T.
Young, who said he was unaware the migrants had returned to the country yesterday when asked at the press conference, wondered how it was possible for certain lawyers to get substantial information about Venezuelan migrants seeking to enter the country illegally.
“We have serious questions about that. How are lawyers getting instructions in these instances? Who is providing the information and the details?” he asked.
A warning was also sent out to Venezuelan migrants registered in the Government’s programme who are making arrangements to bring over relatives and friends illegally. He said the ministry will start investigating people who are doing so and if found guilty, their registration will be rescinded and they will be deported.
“You can’t have it one way and not the other. You can’t say close the borders, protect the borders but allow this one in, but not that one, or to choose that one. That’s not how this Government operates, there’s one law for everyone,” he said.