“[…] To deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of a pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that Trinidad and Tobago has committed to under international law.
“[…] The authorities of Trinidad and Tobago are pushing a xenophobic narrative, which associates people fleeing Venezuela with the Covid-19 virus in a way that risks further stigmatising and discriminating against people in need of international protection…”
The following statement on Trinidad and Tobago’s current deportation of illegal migrants was posted by Amnesty International, a global human rights body:
In response to reports that Trinidad and Tobago’s authorities have deported at least 165 Venezuelans in recent weeks, Louise Tillotson, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International, said:
“It’s no secret that Trinidad and Tobago’s authorities criminalise irregular entry, contrary to international human rights standards. But to deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of a pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that Trinidad and Tobago has committed to under international law.
“No one should be forced back to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.
“Amnesty International understands that Covid-19 presents governments with a major challenge and they can regulate their borders in this context. But the authorities of Trinidad and Tobago are pushing a xenophobic narrative, which associates people fleeing Venezuela with the Covid-19 virus in a way that risks further stigmatising and discriminating against people in need of international protection.
“Instead of using the criminal law to punish people forced to leave everything behind—which also risks pushing people further underground and away from health service—the authorities should work with NGOs, UN agencies and the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who have made Trinidad and Tobago their home in recent years to find solutions that uphold Trinidad and Tobago’s international human rights obligations.”
During July, the media repeatedly reported that the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago have arrested and quarantined Venezuelans.
In a press conference on 25 July, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of National Security claimed that ‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘boat people’ and businessmen that ‘trafficked’ them, present a potential health risk and issued a hotline number for people to report to.
He also said that Venezuelans who registered and were given legal residency and the right to work under the government’s so-called ‘amnesty’ process in 2019 who were found to be ‘harbouring’ irregular migrants could have their residency revoked and face deportation. Landlords found to be renting to irregular migrants could also be subject to criminal charges, the minister added.
On 27 July, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service circulated fliers on Facebook stating that ‘illegal immigration’ could cause a ‘new wave of Covid-19’ and called on people to report ‘suspicious activity’.
Prior to this, local NGO, the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights, called on the government to help Venezuelan women and children who may have been trafficked to Trinidad, instead of sending them back—including by giving them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.
According to news reports, more than two dozen police are under investigation into alleged involvement in trafficking between Trinidad and Venezuela.
When Amnesty International visited Trinidad in January 2020, Venezuelan women who identified as trafficking survivors told researchers that police were involved in trafficking networks. This, combined with the criminalisation of irregular entry into Trinidad and Tobago, made them fearful to report the perpetrators, creating a culture of impunity for human rights violations.
Amnesty International believes this new threat by authorities to criminalise refugees, and those in some cases helping them, risks pushing people further underground, into hiding, and away from the health services that could protect the entire population.