(Trinidad Guardian) Riot police were called to the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Aripo on Thursday after a “normal” demonstration by frustrated Nigerian detainees turned into a hostage-like situation.
Immigration and police officers on duty around 3.30 pm had to send out an “SOS” call to their colleagues after the group of detainees crowded the south and north corridors of the centre in protest over what they called their “unlawful detention” and inhumane conditions.
Armed with rubber bullets and tear gas, the riot police who arrived could not stop some ten Nigerians and others from Ghana and Senegal from forming a human barricade along the corridors. The Africans vowed to “stand as one” as they blocked officers from entering the main area where they were protesting.
The T&T Guardian was told two Immigration officers were confronted by the protesting group. This situation was similar to one that occurred about three days ago, where a group of Venezuelan detainees confronted Immigration officers about the same issues.
An African detainee at the IDC told the T&T Guardian via cellphone that he saw about 15 police vans arrive at the facility to restore peace.
“Some of the fellas went through the gate and we lost sight of them…it had real police…they come inside with gun and ting and rubber bullet and tear gas to use on we, but we stand as one and we block the gates so they couldn’t enter,” he said.
“The Nigerians, about ten of them, were just outside the gate and the police gone with them. We are afraid now as to what may happen to them.”
A Venezuelan detainee said many of them were also beaten during the incident.
“It has too much problem in here…they want to lock all we in one room with no breathing space and no water. We will die.”
An Immigration officer, who did want to be identified, confirmed that senior Immigration officials were later called out to the facility along with the police, who subsequently took ten Nigerians into custody.
The detainees were taken to the Arima Police Station, but up to press time no charges had been laid against them.
In the previous incident earlier this week, seven Venezuelan nationals allegedly confronted guards at the facility over their delayed detention and poor treatment. That incident had already forced a heightened police presence at the facility.
One of the Venezuelan detainees, through an attorney, sent a message to the T&T Guardian saying they were only trying to highlight their mistreatment at the facility and the fact that their matters were dragging along through the courts.
The detainee alleged they were beaten, denied medication, given spoilt food and only one bottle of water a day at the facility.
Last month, the Venezuelans at the centre staged a hunger strike to protest for their freedom.
A video circulated on social media on May 30 meanwhile showed the Venezuelans at the centre standing united singing their national anthem in a form of protest. They are seeking either asylum or the opportunity to be returned to their homeland.
On August 18, 2017, Cuban refugee Yoandri Avila Cruz threatened to sue the Immigration Division for his unlawful detention at the IDC since March 2017. In a pre-action protocol letter sent to acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, attorneys representing Cruz called on the division to justify his lengthy detention.
Cruz’s lawyer Elena de Silva contended his continued detention was unlawful. She has blamed the division’s delay in processing his application for refugee status for her client’s continued detention.
Efforts to reach Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon last evening were unsuccessful as calls to his cell phone went unanswered.
Calls to the Chief Immigration Officer Gandhi-Andrews went straight to voicemail, but she is said to be currently out of the country on training.