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Venezuelans threaten to sue T&T over asylum policy

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Lawyers representing two Venezuelan asylum seekers have written to National Security Minister Edmund Dillon and acting Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi Andrews, threatening to sue the state over what they say is the failure to make transparent, its policy for refugees.

In a pre-action protocol letter sent to both government officials on Monday, lawyers for Carlos Jose Perez Arias and Maria Carolina Olivares Sahad sought clarification on the policy and its applicability to them.

According to one of the legal representatives, Darrell Allahar, the letter arose out of concerns from his clients over the Government's role in repatriating 82 of their compatriots in April and conflicting and evasive statements from Government officials over whether some of the group were registered asylum seekers.

Allahar pointed out that the policy to address the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and how the State would determine their status, was passed by Cabinet in June 2014.

He said this was mentioned by Dillon's predecessor John Sandy at a meeting of the Council of the International Organisation on Migration in November 2014, and by Gandhi-Andrews at a meeting of the executive committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October 2016.

The attorney said that while both officials announced the policy to their international counterparts, only a draft document on the “phased establishment” of it was published.

“Having regard to the Government's recent statements and actions as alluded above, my clients are now fearful that this country has and/or intends to deny and/or frustrate and/or undermine my clients' legitimate expectations as set out above, as well as those of all other registered asylum seekers,” Allahar said.

In the letter, that was also sent to the Washington based United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Allahar requested that Dillon and Gandhi-Andrews give written undertakings that his clients would be placed on orders of supervision and would not be deported while the UNHCR was mulling over the final decision on their refugee status.

He is also seeking assurances that the Government would not impose penalties against his clients for illegal entry until the determination of their applications and would only consider detention as a last resort.

In addition to the applicability of the draft policy, Allahar is seeking the disclosure of the Government's standing operating procedures related to asylum seekers.

“At present, the liberty of my clients and indeed all registered asylum seekers is restricted by executive decisions, therefore, the policy and the decisions taken under it need to be transparent and clearly stated.”

He stated that if Dillon and Gandhi-Andrews fail to respond to the letter within 14 days, a lawsuit will be filed on his clients' behalf.

He also noted that they would consider converting the claim into a class action lawsuit in which they will represent all other asylum seekers in the twin island republic who would then be bound by the final judgement in the case.

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