Trinidad and Tobago

131

Immigration detainees

2014

No Data

Detained children

785

Refugees

2018

Overview

Trinidad and Tobago, one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean, has framed efforts to increase detention and deportation as a matter of national security. It opened a dedicated immigration detention centre in 2009. The country’s immigration laws provide criminal penalties for various violations, including six-month prison sentences for re-entry after expulsion.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

13 August 2020

Migrants and Asylum Seekers Waiting to be Registered During the Two Week Registration Period in T&T in 2019, (Looptt,
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)

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.


09 May 2020

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, (
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/)

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.


Last updated: March 2017

Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Detention Profile

 

 

INTRODUCTION

With large reserves of oil and gas, Trinidad and Tobago is one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean and enjoys an above-average per capita income for the region.[1] This status has helped make the country an important transit and destination country as well as a major tourist destination. Its economic success has been used as an excuse to crackdown on what officials describe as “alarming” numbers of “illegal immigrants,” who allegedly number in the hundreds of thousands and threaten the country’s national security.[2]

Citing the restrictive policies pushed by U.S. President Donald Trump, the country’s National Security Minister has said that Trinidad and Tobago needs to ramp up deportations and “to operate in the same manner as the United States.”[3] People can be subject to criminal penalties for various immigration violations, including six-month prison sentences for re-entry after expulsion.

The country opened a dedicated administrative immigration detention facility in 2009, which is called the “Immigration Detention Centre" (or IDC) as well as the “Aripo Detention Centre.” The National Security Minister explained the decision to open the facility as a deterrence measure: "Strengthening the nation's capacity to detain illegal immigrants and other aliens subjected to deportation is a key component of the comprehensive strategy to deter illegal immigration into Trinidad and Tobago."[4] 

Among those who are frequently subject to immigration controls are Cubans who, since a 2016 U.S. order blocking their access to the country, have been forced to find new migratory routes.[5] Other nationalities of unauthorized immigrants frequently cited by officials are Guyanese, Venezuelans, Ghanaians, and Jamaicans

 

LAWS, POLICIES, AND PRACTICES

Trinidad and Tobago adopted the Immigration Act in 1976, which was last amended in 2005. This law provides grounds for immigration-related detention. Foreign nationals can be detained under the provisions of section 14 of the Immigration Act for a hearing before a Special Inquiry Officer to determine whether they are permitted to enter Trinidad and Tobago or should be detained prior to removal. A detention order can be issued by the Minister, the Chief Immigration Officer, or a Special Inquiry Officer. During the hearing, the person can be assisted by an attorney and is provided free interpretation services.[6] There is no judicial review of this decision.[7] Detainees held at the Immigration Detention Centre are either awaiting final determination of their status or execution of a deportation order.[8]

Non-governmental sources report that asylum seekers are also placed in administrative detention.[9] While the country is a party to 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, it has not adopted implementing legislation nor established a national refugee status determination (RSD) procedure.[10] As a result, UNHCR and its local NGO partner (Living Water Community[11]) have the responsibility for identifying and providing assistance to asylum seekers and refugees. However, transfer of RSD from UNHCR to the government began in June 2014 after the adoption of the National Policy to Address Refugee and Asylum Matters.[12] The first phase included the creation of an ad hoc Refugee Unit in 2015. In 2014, 161 new asylum applications were registered by UNHCR and the Living Water Community.[13]

Government sources report that Trinidad and Tobago has a population of more than 100,000 undocumented migrants,[14] which would represent more than 10 percent of its entire population of some 1.4 million. However, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, there were only 49,900 international migrants in the country as of 2015.[15]

Trinidad’s treatment of detainees from Africa has been criticized because the country has at times kept them in immigration detention for very long periods of time, which in some cases has extended beyond three years.[16] These extended lengths of detention are lawful as the Immigration Act does not provide a maximum length of detention. However, the U.S. Department of State reported that the average length of detention for the Immigration Detention Centre was one week to two months in 2014.[17]

The Immigration Act criminalizes unauthorized enter or residence for any person who has been already removed or otherwise lawfully sent out of Trinidad and Tobago. This irregular re-entry is punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of 1,500 USD.[18]

 

DETENTION INFRASTRUCTURE

The Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) was opened in 2009 on the Eastern Main Road in Aripo, Arima. The IDC, also know as the Aripo Detention Centre, is managed by the Immigration Division under the authority of the Ministry of National Security. Although it was initially intended for short-term detention only it is now used as a long-term immigration facility to detain unauthorized migrants prior to their removal.[19]

In 2013, the IDC had a maximum capacity of 150, with separate facilities for men and women.[20] In 2014, 131 foreign nationals were held at the facility, with Jamaicans reportedly making up the largest portion, followed by Guyanese and Africans.[21]

Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions at the Aripo facility. Squalid conditions have spurred protests and attempted suicides, according to the Emancipation Support Committee.[22] During Trinidad and Tobago’s UN Universal Periodic Review in 2011, countries urged the government to “Take prompt, appropriate, efficient measures towards the improvement of the living conditions in prisons and detention centres, including the inmates’ access to food, medical care and social services.”[23] Recommendations were also made on the need to strengthen the protection safeguards, in particular the mechanisms that allow the detection of migrants with special needs for international protection.[24]

In February 2016, an NGO submission prior to the 25th UPR session highlighted that the Immigration Act remained insufficient with regard to the protection of migrant rights and that “lengthy administrative detention, unfavorable detention conditions, detention of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, lack of access to by NGOs suggest that reform of the immigration system is imperative.” They also urged independent monitoring of the detention centre.[25]

 

 

[1] Central Intelligence Agency, “Trinidad and Tobago Profile”, The World Factbook, 2015. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/td.html

[2] Jamaica Observer, "110,000 illegal immigrants in Trinidad," 15 October 2014, http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/110-000-illegal-immigrants-in-Trinidad; Gail Alexander, "Clampdown on illegals," Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 6 February 2016,  http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2016-02-05/clampdown-illegals.

[3] Carolyn Kissoon, "T&T must deport illegal migrants," Daily Express, 15 November 2016, http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20161115/news/8216tt-must-deport-illegal-migrants8217.

[4] Daily Express Trinidad, “Detention Center Opens in Aripo,” 12 November 2009.

[5] Mario Penton, " Hundreds of Cuban migrants seeking U.S. entry stranded across the Americas,” 19 January 2019, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article127315479.html

[6] Ministry of National Security, Immigration Act, Section 24 (2), “Nature of hearing”, Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.immigration.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/Immigration%20Act.pdf

[7] Ministry of National Security, Immigration Act, Section 30, “Jurisdiction of Court”, Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.immigration.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/Immigration%20Act.pdf

[8] Ministry of National Security, Immigration Act, Section 16, “Detention pending inquiry, examination, appeal or deportation”, Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.immigration.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/Immigration%20Act.pdf

[9] Living Water Community, Submission to the Working Group on the UPR 25th session, Paragraphs 30, February 2016. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/033/25/PDF/G1603325.pdf?OpenElement

[10] UNHCR, Universal Periodic Review, “Submission by the UNHCR for the OHCHR’ Compilation Report on Trinidad and Tobago”, March 2011. http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4d886a9f2.pdf

[11] United States Department of State, 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Trinidad and Tobago, 25 June 2015. http://www.refworld.org/docid/559bd53128.html

[12] UNHCR, Submission for the Universal Periodic Review of Trinidad and Tobago prior to the 25th session, p. 2. Published in March 2016. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/044/41/PDF/G1604441.pdf?OpenElement

[13] Statistical Yearbook 2014, Table 10, Asylum applications and refugee status determination by country/territory of asylum and level in the procedure, 2014. http://www.unhcr.org/54cf9bc29.html

[14] The Daily Observer, “Trinidad Migration: Government issues warning to illegal migrants”, December 2014. http://antiguaobserver.com/trinidad-migration-government-issues-warning-to-illegal-migrants/

[15] United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision (United Nations database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/ Rev.2015). See www.unmigration.org.

[16] Jamaica Observer, “Jamaica has highest number of illegal immigrants in Trinidad”, Trinidad's Minister of National Security statement, October 2014. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Jamaica-has-highest-number-of-illegal-immigrants-in-Trinidad-says-Trinidad-s-Minister-of-National-Security

[17] United States Department of State, 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Trinidad and Tobago, 25 June 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/559bd53128.html

[18] Ministry of National Security, Immigration Act, Section 29 (8), “Execution of deportation”, Laws of Trinidad and Tobago. http://www.immigration.gov.tt/Portals/0/Documents/Immigration%20Act.pdf

[19]Daily Express, “Detention centre opens in Aripo: Illegal immigrants to be kept until sent back home”, November 2009. http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Detention_centre_opens_in_Aripo-115318229.html

[20] Office of the National Ombudsman Trinidad and Tobago, 36th Annual Report of the Activities in 2013. Published in July 2014. file:///C:/Users/MPARC/Downloads/OTT%2036th%20Annual%20Report%202013.pdf

[21] The Daily Observer, “Trinidad Migration: Government issues warning to illegal migrants”, December 2014. http://antiguaobserver.com/trinidad-migration-government-issues-warning-to-illegal-migrants/

[22] “Emancipation Committee calls for investigation into Detention Centre”, September 2015. http://www.looptt.com/content/emancipation-committee-calls-investigation-detention-centre

[23] Human Right Council, Universal Periodic Review, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review - Trinidad and Tobago”, 19th Session, 14 December 2011. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/173/73/PDF/G1117373.pdf?OpenElement

[24] Human Right Council, Universal Periodic Review, “Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review - Trinidad and Tobago”, 19th Session, 14 December 2011. http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G11/173/73/PDF/G1117373.pdf?OpenElement

[25] Living Water Community, Submission to the Working Group on the UPR 25th session, Paragraphs 30-31, February 2016. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G16/033/25/PDF/G1603325.pdf?OpenElement

IMMIGRATION AND DETENTION-RELATED STATISTICS

Total number of immigration detainees by year
131
2014
Estimated total immigration detention capacity
150
2011
Number of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
1
2016
Criminal prison population
3,700
2016
4,846
2013
Percentage of foreign prisoners
3.1
2013
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
272
2016
362
2013
Population
1,360,000
2015
International migrants
49,900
2015
International migrants as a percentage of the population
3.7
2015
Refugees
785
2018
288
2017
89
2016
121
2015
83
2014
Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
0.08
2016
0.06
2014
Total number of new asylum applications
156
2016
161
2014
Refugee recognition rate
75
2014
Stateless persons
0
2016
0
2015
Number of immigration detainees on a given day
Top nationalities of detainees
Number of persons granted alternatives to immigration detention
Number of detained asylum seekers
Total number of detained minors
Number of detained unaccompanied minors
Number of detained accompanied minors
Number of detained stateless persons
Number of apprehensions of non-citizens
Immigration detainees as a percentage of total international migrant population
Estimated capacity of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
Number of dedicated medium-term immigration detention centres
Number of immigration offices
Number of transit facilities
Number of criminal facilities
Number of ad hoc facilities
Number of persons removed/returned (voluntary returns and deportations)
Number of deportations/forced returns only
Percentage of persons removed in relation to total number of people placed in removal procedures
Estimated number of undocumented migrants

SOCIO-ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)
21,323
2014
Remittances to the country
131
2014
Unemployment Rate
2014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
64 (High)
2015
Remittances from the country
Unemployment rate amongst migrants
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD)
Detention for deterrence
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
Immigration Index Score
World Bank Rule of Law Index
Domestic Opinion Polls on Immigration

DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES

Legal tradition
Common law
Constitutional guarantees?
Yes (The Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Act 4 of 1976, as amended by Act 89, 2000 Article 4 Article 5 Article 11) 1976 1976
1976
Core pieces of national legislation
Immigration Act and Amendments, Chapter 18:01 (1969) 2000
1969
Immigration-status-related grounds
Detention to establish/verify identity and nationality
2016
Detention to effect removal
2016
Detention for unauthorised entry or stay
2016
Does the country provide specific criminal penalties for immigration-related violations?
Yes (Yes)
2016
Grounds for criminal immigration-related detention/incarceration and maximum potential duration of incarceration
Unauthorized entry (0)
2016
Unauthorized re-entry (0)
2016
Maximum length for administrative immigration detention in law.
No Limit
2016
Longest recorded instance of immigration detention.
1095
2016
Average length of detention
60
2014
Provision of basic procedural standards
Right to legal counsel (Yes)
2016
Access to free interpretation services (Yes)
2016
Types of non-custodial measures
Supervised release and/or reporting () infrequently
2014
Provision of a guarantor () infrequently
2014
Is the detention of vulnerable persons provided in law? Are they detained in practice?
Asylum seekers (Not mentioned) Yes
2016
Additional legislation
Regulations, standards, guidelines
Non-immigration-status-related grounds providing for administrative detention in immigration legislation.
Has the country decriminalized immigration-related violations?
Maximum length of time in custody prior to issuance of a detention order
Maximum length of detention for asylum-seekers
Maximum length of detention for persons detained upon arrival at ports of entry
Impact of alternatives
Mandatory detention
Expedited/fast track removal
Re-entry ban

INTERNATIONAL LAW

International treaty reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
ICCPR Article 10 1978
1978
1978
ICCPR Article 14 1978
1978
1978
ICCPR Article 26 1978
1978
1978
Individual complaints procedure
Acceptance Year
ICCPR, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 1980
1980
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted
Observation Date
1/6
1/6
Regional legal instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
CBDP, Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belem do Para) 1996
1996
Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2016
2017
Yes 2011
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Treaty bodies decisions on individual complaints
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
Regional treaty reservations
Regional judicial decisions on individual complaints
Recommendations issued by regional human rights mechanisms
Bilateral/multilateral agreements linked to readmission
Visits by special procedures of the Human Rights Council
Relevant recommendations by UN Special Procedures

INSTITUTIONAL INDICATORS

Federal or centralized governing system
Centralized system
2015
Centralized or decentralized immigration authority
Centralized immigration authority
2015
Custodial authority
Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Services (Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Services) Prison
2015
Immigration Division (Ministry of National Security) Internal or Public Security
2015
Detention Facility Management
Ministry of National Security (Governmental)
2015
Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Services (Governmental)
2009
Formally designated detention estate?
Yes (Any facility designated by relevant authority)
2015
Types of detention facilities used in practice
()
2015
Yes () Yes Yes Yes
2014
Authorized monitoring institutions
Office of the Ombudsman of Trinidad and Tobago (National Human Rights Institution (or Ombudsperson) (NHRI))
2016
Does NHRI carry out visits?
Yes
2013
Does NHRI have capacity to receive complaints?
Yes
2014
Apprehending authorities
Is the national human rights institution (NHRI) recognized as independent?
Does NHRI publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Does national preventive mechanism (NPM) carry out visits?
Does NPM have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NPM publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Do NGOs carry out visits?
NGO capacity to receive complaints?
Do NGOs publish reports on immigration detention?
Do parliamentary organs carry out visits?
Do parliamentary organs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do parliamentary organs publicly report on their detention findings?
Do internal inspection agencies (IIAs) carry out visits?
Do IIAs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do IIAs publicly report their findings from detention inspections?
Do international and/or regional bodies (IRBs) visit immigration-related detention facilities?
Do IRBs publicly report their findings from inspections?
Types of privatisation/outsourcing
Detention contractors and other non-state entities
Estimated annual budget for detention operations
Estimated annual budgets for particular detention-related activities
Estimated cost per detainees day (in USD)
Estimated annual budget for non-custodial measures (in USD)
Estimated costs of non-custodial measures (in USD)
Does the country receive external sources of funding?
Description of foreign assistance