Trinidad and Tobago reportedly operates one dedicated immigration detention centre, the Aripo Detention Centre in Arima, which has a total capacity of 150 places. In recent years, the country has cracked down on Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers who have fled violence and economic hardship in their country. The Covid-19 pandemic reached the Carribean in March 2020, and it is expected that the outbreak will increase further in the coming weeks. As of 8 May, the country had recorded a total of 116 cases and 8 deaths.
As a response to Covid-19, the government implemented confinement measures for all the “non-essential labour force” from 29 March until 15 April. This was later extended to 30 April. The government had announced, on 22 March, the closure of its borders to all international flights for an indefinite period and visas for non-citizens are currently suspended until further notice. The government also introduced a series of financial and economic measures to provide income, food and rental fee support to nationals and permanent residents who have been financially affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Most Venezuelan migrants and refugees as well as other non-nationals, will not benefit from these measures, but are entitled to public primary health care.
According to the International Detention Coalition, the government is keeping migrants and asylum seekers in immigration detention centres with a history of poor healthcare and sanitation, disregarding the risks for detainees in contracting Covid-19. Amnesty International has also begun a petition urging the governments of the USA, Mexico, Canada, Curacao and Trinidad and Tobago to release migrants and asylum seekers from immigration detention so they can be protected from Covid-19 infection.
UNHCR implemented several measures aimed at ensuring protection for persons of concern during this pandemic. Three hotlines have been established to provide assistance and information. In the first month, the hotline received 1,111 queries from persons of concern requesting information on cash (51%) or food (16%) assistance. A cash-based intervention was put in place and 215 applications have already been approved. Also, through an implementing partner in the country, Living Water Community, UNHCR is providing food to around 200 families. Other measures such as a public information campaign, ensuring education access and providing medical and psychosocial health services have been set up by UNHCR and their implementing partners.
On 3 April, the general prosecutor announced the release of 388 prisoners out of the country’s 3,959 total prison population. Only those sentenced for “minor” infractions were released and a medical examination prior to release is conducted on the prisoners. Following the suspension of visits to prisoners on 31 March, alternatives such as electronic communications and video calls were organised in the Golden Grove women’s prison. Each prisoner will get 10 minutes every two weeks to speak with their family.
While the country has taken measures to protect prisoners, including release and suspension of visits, the GDP has been unable to find reports indicating that authorities have adopted any measures to assist migrants in detention.
- International Detention Coalition, “Key Developments on Immigration Detention & Alternatives: Covid-19,” accessed on 21 April 2020, https://idcoalition.org/covid-19/key-developments/
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Trinidad and Tobago,” https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/trinidad-and-tobago
- Response for Venezuelans: Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, “Covid-19 Situation: Carribean,” April 2020, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/75272
- UNHCR, “Trinidad and Tobago: Covid-19 Response,” April 2020, https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/75964_0.pdf
- WorldoMeter, “Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” accessed on 8 May 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
- Amnesty International, “Americas: Release Migrants and Asylum Seekers from Detention During Covid-19 Pandemic,” https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/take-action/release-migrants-and-asylum-seekers-from-detention-during-covid-19/
- Stabroek News, “Trinidad: 388 Low-Risk Prisoners Targeted for Release,” 3 April 2020, www.stabroeknews.com/2020/04/03/news/regional/trinidad/trinidad-388-low-risk-prisoners-targeted-for-release/
- R. Dowlat-Rostant, “Virtual Prison Visits Get Going,” 7 April 2020, http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/virtual-prison-visits-get-going-6.2.1093817.6234ef193f
- National Security Minister Stuart Young speaks to Venezuelan nationals detained at the Aripo Immigration Detention Centre during his visit to the facility on 2 April 2019, (“T&T National Security Minister tells detained Venezuelans: Amnesty coming,” 3 April 2020, https://www.stabroeknews.com/2019/04/03/news/regional/trinidad/tt-national-security-minister-tells-detained-venezuelans-amnesty-coming/)