Trinidad Immigration Chief admits Venezuelan influx

Char­maine Gand­hi-An­drews

(Trinidad Guardian) Chief Im­mi­gra­tion Of­fi­cer Char­maine Gand­hi-An­drews ad­mits there has been an in­crease in il­le­gal im­mi­grants to this coun­try, but she is al­so ad­mit­ting she is not in a po­si­tion to give ex­act num­bers “be­cause a lot of the per­sons who have en­tered we know noth­ing about.”

But she is ad­mit­ting that over the last year most of those who are en­ter­ing il­le­gal­ly are Venezuelans.

The in­flux of il­le­gal im­mi­grants has cre­at­ed more than one prob­lem for Gand­hi-An­drews, who ad­mits she has had to act “ul­tra vires the Im­mi­gra­tion Act” be­cause it makes no pro­vi­sion for asy­lum seek­ers or refugees.

Gand­hi-An­drews was among Min­istry of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty of­fi­cials who yes­ter­day ap­peared be­fore a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment on Equal­i­ty and Di­ver­si­ty, which ex­am­ined the is­sue of the treat­ment of de­tainees at the Im­mi­gra­tion De­ten­tion Cen­tre (IDC) at Aripo.

As of yes­ter­day morn­ing, there were 118 de­tainees at the IDC. Of that num­ber, 75 per cent en­tered the coun­try il­le­gal­ly and most of them are Venezue­lan na­tion­als who, apart from en­ter­ing il­le­gal­ly, have no doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion from com­mit­tee chair Nyan Gads­by-Dol­ly on the num­ber of il­le­gal peo­ple in the coun­try, Gand­hi-An­drews said while there has been an in­crease in peo­ple en­ter­ing il­le­gal­ly, “ac­tu­al num­ber we won’t be able to give be­cause a lot of the per­sons who have en­tered we know noth­ing about.”

How­ev­er, she said 19,000 Venezue­lans had en­tered through le­gal ports of en­try and of that num­ber 17 per cent had over­stayed their time.

Gand­hi-An­drews said some of those per­sons are cur­rent­ly housed at the IDC while oth­ers were as­sessed and hav­ing de­ter­mined that they have “some place to stay and some­body who is will­ing to sup­port them while they are here, we would con­sid­er the risk and put the per­son on an Or­der of Su­per­vi­sion,” which she ex­plained “is akin to bail.”

She ex­plained that in or­der to de­ter­mine whether some­one would get an or­der of su­per­vi­sion, they look at the na­ture of the breach of the Im­mi­gra­tion Act. “The Chief Im­mi­gra­tion Of­fi­cer would be able to de­ter­mine whether or not that per­son can be re­leased on an or­der of su­per­vi­sion and un­der what terms and con­di­tions,” she said.

There are cur­rent­ly 1,700 per­sons on or­ders of su­per­vi­sion, she not­ed. Those per­sons would be re­leased on a se­cu­ri­ty bond which varies ac­cord­ing to their na­tion­al­i­ty, she said.

Giv­ing an ex­am­ple of this, she said some­one from Guyana may be re­quired to post a $2,000 se­cu­ri­ty bond while some­one from an African coun­try may be re­quired to post a $30,000 bond.

That cost, she said, does not take in­to ac­count the cost of the de­ten­tion or repa­tri­a­tion.

Gand­hi-An­drews told the com­mit­tee that per­sons who are placed un­der su­per­vi­sion are re­quired to re­port to the Im­mi­gra­tion De­part­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­tween once a week or once a month.

Per­sons who are placed in the de­ten­tion cen­tres “are con­sid­ered high risk or await­ing some form of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for them and some­body to come for­ward to say yes we are will­ing to sup­port them, we are will­ing to post a se­cu­ri­ty bond.”

Asked how long it would take for a de­tainee to be repa­tri­at­ed, she said it all de­pends on the co­op­er­a­tion of the de­tainee, whether they have to get as­sis­tance to get doc­u­men­ta­tion, to de­ter­mine the na­tion­al­i­ty of the per­son, whether the per­son would buy the tick­et or the Gov­ern­ment would have to buy it and some air­lines re­quire es­corts for the de­por­tees.

The process can take any­where from one week to a month, she said.

Un­der the Im­mi­gra­tion Act, a per­son en­ter­ing the coun­try il­le­gal­ly is li­able to a fine of $50,000 and three years’ im­pris­on­ment and for a sec­ond of­fence, the fine is $100,000 or five years’ im­pris­on­ment.

No laws to help asy­lum seek­ers

Gand­hi-An­drews yes­ter­day ad­mit­ted that the in­flux of il­le­gal im­mi­grants is an “emerg­ing phe­nom­e­na” in the re­gion and there are cur­rent­ly no laws in place to deal with asy­lum seek­ers and refugees.

“The cur­rent Im­mi­gra­tion Act does not deal with these per­sons,” Gand­hi-An­drews told a Joint Se­lect Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment on Equal­i­ty and Di­ver­si­ty.

It is for this rea­sons she said she some­times finds her­self “be­tween a rock and a hard place.”

Gand­hi-An­drews said while she had al­lowed “cer­tain things to hap­pen” in the past, she was “run­ning ul­tra vires to the Im­mi­gra­tion Act but in the same in­ter­est of hu­man rights.”

But she is hop­ing this will be ad­dressed soon.

“We have been meet­ing and we have got­ten to the point where there is draft leg­is­la­tion and a draft pol­i­cy,” Gand­hi-An­drews told the com­mit­tee.

The Unit­ed Na­tions Refugee Agency UN­HCR es­ti­mates there are close to 7,000 asy­lum seek­ers in this coun­try on the grounds that they fear per­se­cu­tion or fear of re­turn­ing to their coun­try.

The Liv­ing Wa­ter Com­mu­ni­ty is the im­ple­ment­ing part­ner of the UNCHR and le­gal ad­vis­er to Liv­ing Wa­ters Gi­na Ma­haraj sug­gest­ed there was a need for “bet­ter ac­cess to the IDC so that we can in­ter­view these per­sons to know whether they want to be reg­is­tered as asy­lum seek­ers.” Gand­hi-An­drews said the arrange­ment with Liv­ing Wa­ters and UN­HCR is that when­ev­er they want to see some­body from the IDC an arrange­ment is made. But she said if Liv­ing Wa­ters “want free ac­cess that is a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion” and that de­ci­sion would have to be made “else­where.”

Ac­cord­ing to Gand­hi-An­drews, there is al­so a se­cu­ri­ty is­sue to con­sid­er.

“There are times when the sit­u­a­tion at the IDC can be volatile. What we have ob­served is that when any in­di­vid­ual from the out­side goes in the de­tainees start to act up,” she said.


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