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United Nations team to visit T&T over Venezuelan refugees



By Gail Alexander

Petroleumworld 05 04 2018

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres is sending a team to T&T to inquire into Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley's recent complaint about criticism from the UN representative in T&T on the repatriation of 82 Venezuelans.

Acting Attorney General Stuart Young revealed this at yesterday's post-Cabinet media conference.

After T&T's UN representative Richard Blewitt recently aired concerns over the repatriation process, Rowley expressed concern about “misinformation” and said he would complain to the United Nations about comments from its representatives. He said there's a legal process to be followed by all potential migrants.

Yesterday, Young said the PM sent the letter to the UN Secretary General pointing out the Government's position on the voluntary repatriation exercise and expressing discomfort and disappointment, “to put it lightly” on the UN representative's statements. He said T&T's ambassador at the UN, Penelope Beckles, also conveyed T&T's concerns and lodged a request with the UN Secretary General for a call with Rowley. The tele-conference occurred Tuesday.

Young said, “It was a positive, productive, vigorous and detailed conversation with the UN Secretary General.”

In the conversation, Young said Rowley defended T&T in the repatriation issue, saying T&T did everything according to laws and felt aggrieved that a UN representative, rather than consult with the Government to ascertain what occurred, went ahead and criticised T&T.

Young said Guterres acknowledged T&T's position and noted that UN records showed T&T has about 40,000 Venezuelans here and the Government had treated them with dignity and respect. He added that Guterres said he'd send a team of senior officials from the UN's High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva to meet with the Government to ascertain what occurred, ensure the right facts are put forward and if there was some misrepresentation, that it would be dealt with.

Whatever the outcome, Young said he assumed the UN would deal with their officials as they saw fit. He said the Guterres assured T&T continued to be a leading sovereign state in the UN, especially regionally, has an excellent UN record and the current issue wouldn't blot this.

Young noted, however, that Guterres said he was unaware of the issue in T&T prior to contact from Beckles. After Beckles' request, Guterres then called for a report on the matter and from what he saw in that, required more facts, Young claimed.

“It didn't seem in his report that he was aware of any statement issued (by the representative in T&T) or where the authority for the statement came from,” Young said.

In the conversation with Rowley, Young said Guterres did differentiate between how economic migrants, seeking opportunities elsewhere, should be treated as opposed to legitimate asylum seekers. But Young said Rowley stressed those repatriated did so voluntarily, with proof in writing.

“We've heard suggestions some may have felt afterwards they didn't want to give up asylum. But that wasn't the information from Immigration. We were told they filmed people individually at Piarco when they left to ensure they were leaving voluntarily,” Young said.

On T&T's side, Young said Rowley promised to make all information available, “but felt strongly, based on the Government level reports, there wasn't sufficient conversations between the UN and Government, prior to any statements being made.”

“T&T felt very secure in Immigration's information there were no breaches and if there was any breach, it wasn't 82 people repatriated against their will,” Young said.

Young said he assumed there may have been conversations between T&T officials and the UN officials here after the local UN representative's statement arose. He said T&T had a policy on how refugees are to be dealt with and that's with an implementation team. Young, however, stressed the Government isn't considering a moratorium on people who are here illegally.


Acting Attorney General Stuart Young yesterday admitted he was present at Camp Cumuto when Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and his children were also visiting in 2016. Following the Camp Cumuto visit, pictures of Al-Rawi's children posing with high-powered weapons had surfaced, sparking criticism.

On whether he too was invited to Camp Cumuto, Young said, “I don't want to go anywhere, I don't ask to go anywhere–I was invited (on that occasion).”

He added that he couldn't comment on the AG's position in the issue.

Young also commented on T&T's five-point drop in the Press Freedom Index (by Reporters Without Border). He said the Government had nothing to do with one of the reasons for the drop: an alleged attack on a photographer by AV Oil and Gas Drilling officials.

On other reasons for the drop–the Cybercrime and Data Protection Bill–he said there was need to provide legal safeguards against materials being posted that may involve illicit/illegal agenda. He stressed his Government never had a fight against the media.

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Story by Gail Alexander from Trinidad & Tobago Guardian
05 04 2018

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