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A worst-case scenario

Published: 
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The attorney-general is perfectly correct. A nice speech and photo-op at a conference and a signature on an international agreement/treaty/convention means absolutely nothing when you get back home. Unless there is statutory compulsion; moral authority and decent behaviour need not be displayed. What an appalling confession to make.

It should not be that we find relief in pointing to other large and small glass houses nor that we are comforted by an absence of enabling statute. Had we to rely on statute alone to govern human and official behaviour here we would have declined into infamy far more quickly than we are currently witnessing.

I have encountered numerous instances in which more journalism could have had the impact of exposing unprincipled behaviour on the part of the state with respect to international commitments. There are about 200 international treaties and agreements we currently take pride in announcing as part of our credentials as a democracy. But, in several instances, T&T would not survive critical scrutiny when it comes to enactment and implementation, both in spirit and at law. The press release, after all, is what really counts.

It also should not be that in 2018 there are cheerleaders to the surrender of our sovereignty and revolting usurpation of trust as obtained on the tarmac of Piarco International Airport on Saturday.

We do not even appear to be mildly and collectively embarrassed by the schooling delivered to us by the UN System in T&T, and others who are familiar with some key principles that ought to guide our conduct as a member of the global community. Back in March, we actually received an unprecedented Guidance Note from the UNHCR on this very matter.

Last year, during an Amnesty International online course on the rights of refugees, participants were asked to cite instances in which countries had breached the principle of non-refoulement—a fancy term to address what should obtain when immigrants face the threat of being returned to home countries where they credibly claim to be under threat of persecution.

Unable to find clear cases in the English-speaking Caribbean, I thought about comparing such a situation to one phenomenon we know well. The times when women, claiming to be the victims of violence at home, are either packed into police cars or turned away from police stations—or worse, have their spouses come pick them up.

In a sense, it should not really matter that Saturday’s deportees had voluntarily sought this form of passage home—though there are trustworthy people who stoutly deny such a claim, including the head of the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Richard Blewitt.

Sunday’s press release by the UN System in T&T asserted that the group flown out of the country on the Venezuelan military aircraft “included several individuals who had been registered as asylum seekers in Trinidad and Tobago as well as others who had initiated asylum requests or had signalled an intention to do so.”

The UNHCR figures show that between 2014 and February 8 this year, there were 1,785 asylum-seekers from Venezuela in this country.

I am also aware of a claim that our authorities had on Saturday played “cat and mouse” with attorneys interested in enforcing a requirement under international law that asylum petitioners should not be repatriated—much less so using transportation provided by the country against whom such petitions are based.

Virtually every day, people who have not met T&T’s immigration requirements for stays of any kind are packed into commercial aircraft and sent back home. This is a largely orderly process and most times there is no huge fuss because our country can exercise a lawful prerogative under such circumstances. But this is not what happened on Saturday.

Foreign policy and immigration law should neither be guided by panicked xenophobia nor be the collateral victim of international business manoeuvres.

Saturday provided us with a worst-case scenario.

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