Trinidad Guardian:-  Amnesty International’s Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas has written to the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley criticising the way in which 82 Venezuelan nationals were repatriated to their home country on Saturday.

Rosas’ letter came one day after a non-governmental organisation in Venezuela said it was going to lodge an official report on behalf of the 82 Venezuelans who were repatriated and as international outcry over the act intensified.

In the letter, Rosas requested information about the procedures followed by the T&T Government in carrying out the deportation. She indicated that they have received information suggesting those returned did not do so voluntarily, contrary to National Security Minister Edmund Dillon’s claims. In fact, she said they received information the deportees were presented with papers to sign “in a language they do not understand, stating that they would return voluntarily.”

“As part of the Convention relating to the Status of the Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) and its Protocol (1967), Trinidad and Tobago is obliged to fully protect the rights of those in need of international protection,” Rosas said in her letter.

“To do otherwise implies a breach of international law and it is regrettable that your Government has chosen to ignore its obligations in a way incompatible with international human rights standards.”

Among other things, she said the deportees were “forcibly returned without an individualised assessment or having the opportunity to challenge or appeal their deportation orders, without having their legal options explained to them in a language they understand and without access to their lawyers or UNHCR, the actions of your Government have undermined due process, your Government’s own policy on asylum, and your country’s international human rights obligations. This cannot be repeated.”

Rosas explained that mass deportations are prohibited under international law, as is the violation of the principles of non-refoulement, confidentiality, non-penalisation and the right to due process and judicial protection.

She disclosed that based on the information Amnesty International received, it appeared the T&T Government chose to ignore each one of these key protection principles.

“Questions remain as to why a government that should protect refugees and asylum seekers as part of its international obligations offered confidential information to the Venezuelan authorities, and deported asylum seekers with open refugee claims back to their country where they may face torture or other grave human rights violations,” Rosas told Rowley.

“Trinidad and Tobago must guarantee the rights of the growing number of asylum seekers and refugees from Venezuela in need of international protection, whose hope for survival are increasingly in countries such as yours. To fail to do so is to ignore your country’s commitment and international obligations to protecting human rights.”

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk yesterday also expressed deep regret over the deportations. He described sending back those who applied for refugee status as a “breach of international refugee law.” He also said some of them were deported from T&T despite the UNHCR’s request for access to them concerned and written interventions.

“The forced return of this group is of great concern,” Türk said.

“UNHCR calls on Trinidad and Tobago to continue to abide by its international obligations as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and other applicable international instruments that are incorporated into its official Refugee Policy, in particular the principle of non-return, known as non-refoulement, and Article 31 of the Convention which requests signatories “not to impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence” to people who are in need of international protection.”

UN Resident Co-ordinator Richard Blewitt meanwhile called on Government to speed up work on the asylum/refugee policy he said has been at the Attorney General’s (AG) office for the past 12 months.

“The Government has worked on the policy quite diligently and in the last 12 months. It is now at the AG’s office and the final draft is almost ready to go to Parliament and I will urge the Government to take this moment to put this legislation in place. The Opposition must support it,” Blewitt said.