Lawyers representing a group of 26 Venezuelan migrant children and adults against the State have been successful in blocking the authorities from being repatriated a second time.
At the conclusion of an emergency hearing which ended around 10 pm yesterday, High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams granted an injunction stopping a second deportation pending the outcome of a substantive lawsuit before her.
Quinlan-Williams also ordered that they be placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days before being released into the custody of their parents, who are registered migrants here in T&T, and with their parents in the cases of the migrant children whose parents were with them on the journey.
The group is expected to be transported to the migrant detention centre at the Chaguaramas Heliport today to serve their quarantine. They will then be released.
The case comes up for hearing again tomorrow at 7 pm.
The emergency hearing of the case, filed early yesterday morning, was initially scheduled to take place virtually at 7.30 pm but was pushed back as Quinlan-Williams was engaged with a protracted trial.
When the virtual hearing did begin, Quinlan-Williams noted that the case involves minors and began clearing participants who were not directly connected to the case, including the media.
Although Law Association President Douglas Mendes, SC, told Quinlan-Williams that the association had been served with the proceedings and invited to apply to join as an interested party by the migrants’ lawyers, Quinlan-Williams asked him to sign out as she did not share the same view of the association’s proposed role.
In the court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, the migrants’ legal team claimed that the actions of State officials in deporting them on Sunday, breached their constitutional rights to liberty, protection of the law and privacy and family life which are guaranteed to any person within T&T, including illegal migrants. They also alleged that the action breached several international treaties and the National Policy to address Refugees and Asylum, which was created in 2014 and was not abolished.
“A person detained and more so a child retains all his rights and obligations, save for those which are eclipsed by the power that is granted to detain. It is a most flagrant and abhorrent abuse of power for the Respondent, its servants and or agents to use the power to deport in a manner so as to prevent the Claimant from having access to the Court to seek protection and the enforcement of his guaranteed rights under the Constitution and under international law and the international obligations of the State,” lawyers said in the filings.
The group was seeking an injunction blocking their deportation pending the determination of the case. They are also seeking an order for their temporary release.
Attached to the lawsuit was an affidavit from a registered migrant whose wife, daughter and four-year-old son are among the group. In the document, the man claimed that in 2018 he came to Trinidad to find work to support his family in Venezuela. He said although he sent money back home it was not enough to care of his son, who has a heart condition.
“My son wasn’t able to access food or medical care. If he had stayed in Venezuela, he would not have been able to access medicine. He would have died from his very serious condition,” he said.
He said he made arrangements for their journey and made his way to a beach in south Trinidad last week to collect them. However, when he arrived he found the beach deserted and found out that they had been arrested.
“When I heard this I immediately broke down in tears. I felt like my world had collapsed. I became very fearful for my family, who was without me and locked away in a foreign country,” he said.
The group was detained shortly after arriving in Chatam last Tuesday.
The migrants, the youngest of whom is four-months-old, were tested for COVID-19 and all found to be negative. They were then held in custody at several police stations until their deportation on Sunday morning. The migrants were then placed on two civilian vessels and escorted out of T&T waters by the Coast Guard.
Although Quinlan-Williams ordered that the group be brought before her during a hearing on Monday, State attorneys informed her that they could not comply as the migrants were already out of the jurisdiction.
However, the group made a second trip to T&T and landed in Los Iros on Tuesday afternoon and was immediately detained by police and taken for a medical examination. They were being held at the Erin Police Station up to late yesterday evening.
The migrants are also being represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Nafeesa Mohammed, Dayadai Harripaul, and Umesh Maharaj. Reginald Armour, SC, and Raphael Adjodha are representing the State.