Trinidad and Tobago adopted a series of measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including health-related measures, employment benefits, food handouts, and temporary extension of residence permits and certificates. However, most asylum seekers and irregular migrants, mainly from Venezuela, did not benefit from these measures, aside from receiving primary health care (see 9 May Trinidad and Tobago update on this platform). Instead, officials in the country have used the pandemic to spread fear about the dangers of migrants, particularly those from Venezuela. While it is estimated that 40,000 Venezuelans were residing in Trinidad and Tobago in 2019, the country has not instituted an official asylum policy and no legislation protecting migrants and asylum seekers is in place.
In May 2019, the government embarked on a nationwide exercise to register all Venezuelan nationals who are in the country, regardless of their immigration status. The registration process began on 31 May and ended on 14 June 2019. Venezuelans with valid work permits and those in the process of obtaining legal immigration status did not have to undergo the registration process. Following the two-week procedure, only 16,500 Venezuelans were registered, a fraction of the total population. Those registered can remain in the country temporarily and work legally for one year. Venezuelan migrant children remain still barred from going to school. In response, some Trinidadians have set up support groups.
In July 2019, shortly after the registration procedure ended, the country’s national security minister called for ramped up deportations of undocumented people “in the same manner as the United States.” In a press conference on 25 July 2020, the minister claimed that “illegal immigrants,” “boat people,” and those that “trafficked them” present health risks and issued a hotline number for people to make reports. On 27 July, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service circulated fliers on Facebook stating that “illegal immigration” could cause a “new wave of Covid-19” and called people to report “suspicious activity.” The following day, 167 Venezuelan nationals were deported from Trinidad and Tobago after having completed a compulsory quarantine period, as requested by the Venezuelan government.
Louise Tillotson, a Carribean researcher at Amnesty International said: “It’s no secret that Trinidad and Tobago’s authorities criminalise irregular entry, contrary to international human rights standards. But to deport Venezuelan refugees back to the human rights and humanitarian emergency that they were fleeing, in the middle of the pandemic, is an outrageous violation of the obligations that Trinidad and Tobago has committed to under international law. No one should be forced back to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.” The local NGO, Carribean Centre for Human Rights, has called on the government to help Venezuelan women and children who may have been trafficked to the country by giving them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures rather than sending them back automatically.
While it is unclear if any specific measures have been taken in the country to protect immigration detainees, some measures have been implemented in prisons. On 3 April, the attorney general announced the release of 388 prisoners of the 3,959 total population. Only those incarcerated for minor infractions are eligible for release and they have to go through a medical test before being released.
- Loop News, “8 Things to Know About the Venezuelan Migrant Registration Process,” 26 May 2019, https://www.looptt.com/content/8-things-know-about-venezuelan-migrant-registration-process
- BBC, “The Displaced: When 40,000 Desperate Venezuelans Hit a Tiny Island,” 16 September 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-latin-america-49690353/the-displaced-when-40000-desperate-venezuelans-hit-a-tiny-island
- Amnesty International, “Trinidad and Tobago: Deportation of 165 Venezuelans Violates International Law,” 6 August 2020, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/08/trinidad-tobago-deportation-165-venezuelans-violates-international-law/
- KPMG, “Trinidad and Tobago: Government and Institution Measures in Response to Covid-19,” 17 April 2020, https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2020/04/trinidad-and-tobago-government-and-institution-measures-in-response-to-covid.html
- A. Ramdass, “Don’t Send Back Trafficked Venes,” Trinidad Daily Express, 24 July 2020, https://trinidadexpress.com/news/local/don-t-send-back-trafficked-venes/article_2e4d9396-ce13-11ea-b4f9-b75d7a372a82.html
- 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/
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Trinidad and Tobago, March 2017, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/americas/trinidad-and-tobago
- Migrants and Asylum Seekers Waiting to be Registered During the Two Week Registration Period in T&T in 2019, (Looptt, “8 Things To Know About the Venezuelan Migrant Registration Process,” 26 May 2019, https://www.looptt.com/content/8-things-know-about-venezuelan-migrant-registration-process)