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Trinidad and Tobago: Court ruling on deportations will gravely impact refugees and migrants, UN experts say

26 July 2023

GENEVA (26 July 2023) – A court ruling in Trinidad and Tobago declaring that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to the twin-island State, could have grave implications for people seeking international protection and the lives of migrants, UN experts warned today.

“We are deeply concerned about this High Court ruling and the reported apprehension in this context, on 9 July 2023, of 196 Venezuelan migrants, including UNHCR-registered refugees,” the experts said.

On 4 July 2023, in a case brought to the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago by a refugee recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) challenging a deportation order from the National Security Minister, the High Court judge ruled that all migrants who have not been granted asylum or refugee status by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago could be deported under the provisions of its Immigration Act – including those holding a UNHCR certificate recognising their status of refugee. The judgment said that obligations under the Refugee Convention and the principle of non-refoulement do not apply to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago because the Government had failed to incorporate the international law provisions into domestic legislation.

“A proactive legislative response is urgently required to incorporate the Refugee Convention into domestic law, given the serious implications of this judicial ruling,” the UN experts said. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants is not the solution and puts refugees and asylum seekers at greater risk of abuse, exploitation, torture, enforced disappearance, trafficking and other forms of ill-treatment.”

“The right to life, the principle of non-refoulement, and the prohibition of arbitrary or collective expulsion should always prevail over national legislation as they are grounded in customary international law and binding on every State,” the experts said.

The experts recalled that Trinidad and Tobago is a party to many international treaties which prohibit the expulsion, refoulement or extradition of a person to a State where it is feared he or she would be at risk of persecution and/or torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and enforced disappearance, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.

The UN experts have engaged with the Government in two separate communications on the situation of Venezuelan migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers as well as allegations of pushbacks at sea and forced returns of Venezuelan migrants, without protection, due process and individualised risk assessments (TTO 1/2022 and TTO 2/2022) that may also amount to torture or ill-treatment and violations of the right to life. However, they regret that, to date, no reply has been received to these communications.

“Migrants are first and foremost human beings with human rights,” the experts said. “All migrants, by virtue of their human dignity, are protected by international human rights law, without discrimination, on the same footing as citizens, regardless of their administrative status or situation.”

“We remain ready to engage with Trinidad and Tobago’s authorities and support efforts to ensure the full protection of migrants’ rights, and the compliance of national laws, policies and programmes with the country’s obligations under international human rights law,” they said.

*The experts: Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grażyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For additional information and media requestsplease contact Nouf Al Anezi ([email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

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