The United Nations voiced alarm Wednesday at Trinidad and Tobago’s decision to deport 16 Venezuelan children earlier this week even as efforts were underway in court to fight their removal.
The minors were deported on Sunday, hours before a court hearing in which lawyers were due to demand permanent residence for the young Venezuelan migrants in the country, attorney Nafeesa Mohammed told AFP on Monday.
“We are deeply concerned at the decision,” UN rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell said in a statement.
She said the children and nine adults, who had arrived in Trinidad on November 17, “were placed on two boats and escorted by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard out of the country’s territorial waters towards the Venezuelan coast.”
“The Trinidad and Tobago High Court dismissed their application as they were considered outside the country’s jurisdiction,” she said.
Throssell said the whereabouts of the group, which included children as young as four months, were reportedly unknown for 24 hours, before they appeared to have returned to Trinidad by boat on Tuesday.
“All refugees and migrants, regardless of status, are entitled to the respect and protection of their human rights,” she said, stressing that countries have special responsibilities when dealing with children.
“Children should never be forcibly deported based on their, or their parents’, migration status,” Throssell said.
“The precondition to any return involving a child is that an independent and impartial decision has been taken, involving child protection officials, and that a return is a sustainable solution that will ensure the rights, welfare and best interests of the child.”
Throssell called on authorities in Trinidad and Tobago to “safeguard the human rights of refugee and migrant children regardless of their status.”
This, she said, should include “ensuring access to due process and procedural safeguards, consistent with the principle of non-refoulement.”
She also reiterated the UN rights office’s call for all governments “to suspend all forced returns amid the COVID-19 pandemic to safeguard the health of migrants and communities.”
The UN estimates that more than five million Venezuelans have fled the economic and social collapse that has unfurled in their homeland since 2015, with some 24,000 seeking refuge in Trinidad and Tobago, an island just off the coast of the South American country.