back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

09 February 2022 – Trinidad and Tobago

Trindad and Tobago Coastguard Searching a Vessel During a Patrol in 2011 (Andrea De Silva, Reuters,
Trindad and Tobago Coastguard Searching a Vessel During a Patrol in 2011 (Andrea De Silva, Reuters, "Venezuela demands probe after baby dies in migrant boat incident," Al-Jazeera, 8 February 2022,

On 5 February 2022, the Trinidad and Tobago coast guard opened fire on a boat carrying some 40 people fleeing Venezuela, wounding a woman and killing her nine-month-old baby. The country’s coast guard stated its personnel had opened fire in “self-defence” to prevent being rammed by the boat. Human rights activists as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have called for an investigation into the incident. The IACHR called on Trinidad and Tobago to undertake a “prompt and thorough investigation into the death of a migrant baby from Venezuela by shooting during a National Guard operation… to punish those responsible, and to make full reparations to family members.”

Trinidad and Tobago has opposed migration from Venezuela and actively sought to deter boats from arriving, sometimes using methods that have been ruled illegal. In one case in late 2020, authorities detained 16 Venezuelan children who were subsequently deported by boat. The country’s Supreme Court, however, ordered their return to the island. However, because of the pandemic, the group was placed in quarantine in a “shelter.”

In February 2021, Prime Minister Keith Rowley said that Venezuelan nationals along with any other migrants that reside in Trinidad and Tobago would be vaccinated against COVID-19. But observers have expressed concerns about the implementation of this policy. Thairis Mejías, director of Hermandad Sin Fronteras, said: “There will be many questions surrounding the vaccination campaign, and how irregular migrants will be treated in the country.”

According to the UNHCR, in 2020, there were 3,179 refugees, 19,926 asylum seekers, and 4,663 “displaced” Venezuelans in Trinidad and Tobago. By mid-2021, the figures rose to 3,458 refugees, 21,089 asylum seekers and 4,663 displaced Venezuelans. UNHCR has provided access to an asylum process with more than 8,500 asylum-seekers receiving UNHCR documentation in 2021. According to UNHCR’s December 2021 data, it had registered people of concern from 40 different countries, 86 percent of whom were Venezuelan and 6 percent Cubans. Out of the total population of concern, 22.3 percent were children.

During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in December 2021, Trinidad and Tobago received several recommendations, including: “take all necessary steps to end instances of individuals being remanded in pretrial custody or immigration detention for extended periods (Ireland) (para. 109.66)” and “adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the effective protection of migrants, asylum seekers or those who require international protection, ensuring that the principle of non-refoulement and their access to health and education services is observed (Mexico) (para. 109.99).”