AND GREVIC ALVARADO
CRISTON J WILLIAMS, attorney for Venezuelans held at a St James bar on Sunday in a raid by police, army and immigration officers, told Newsday on Wednesday evening that 78 people had been released, but over 100 people remained detained.
They were reportedly detained over questions of their entry and legal status to be in TT.
Those released had UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) cards. These indicate that the holder is an asylum-seeker or refugee, and should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin.
Williams called on TT’s LGBT community to help the detainees, who he said had been attending what he termed “an LGBT party” when the raid occurred.
Newsday saw a video clip of the police raiding premises decked out with small, rainbow-coloured pendants signifying LGBT rights, and the same display of LGBT pendants in another video clip seemingly at the same venue.
The second video clip featured a fashion display and dancing, with several of the individuals making speeches into a microphone, to the applause of the crowd, many of whom recorded events on their cellphones.
Williams related, “The owners of the Apex Bar contacted us, concerned for their patrons at the bar.”
He said the bar owners tried to help some of the patrons.
“From our side of the fence, about 78 persons who have the UNHCR card were released.
“But what I can also tell you is that, yes, a lot of Venezuelans were there, but from my understanding that party was an LGBT party.”
He wondered whether patrons were the subject of xenophobia and anti-LGBT sentiments.
Williams wondered why the authorities had held almost 200 people at the heliport at Chaguaramas, when that facility was under investigation after allegations that a 21-year-old woman was raped there by a Coast Guard member, in a case in which the police said interviews with earlier detainees had given them no evidence of such a crime occurring.
Williams said some detaines had held a “drag show” in the heliport.
“From my understanding, they had a little show. They used the sheeting on the bed to have a little show. Just to make themselves happy.
“The men had a fashion show in the heliport yesterday using sheets and blankets from the heliport.”
Asked if the show was performed in drag, he replied yes.
The term “drag” refers to the wearing of women’s clothes by men or men’s clothes by women. It is usually done as entertainment.
Expressing concerns about a mix of people – men, women and children – in the heliport, he urged that the facility be altered to provide a safe space for transgender individuals.
Williams concluded, “I want the gay community to come out and support the Spanish (Venezuelan) nationals.”
Newsday spoke to Dr Angelique Nixon of the LGBT advocacy group CAISO, who said she had been travelling and did not know of an LGBT aspect of this situation.
Newsday sought a status update on the 100-plus remaining detainees, but Chief Immigration Officer Veela Persad referred us to the National Security Ministry’s corporate communications unit.
On Wednesday, some of the detainees still at the Heliport posted a video online apologising for holding Sunday’s celebration and posting videos of it on social media.
A spokesman for the group says they meant no harm.
He also said the detainees were asking for conditions at the facility to be improved and for their cases to be expedited.
The man said they were aware their earlier actions were wrong.
“We recognise a video broadcast on social media on Monday night which we shared to distract ourselves was not appropriate.
“Our intention has never been to offend anyone, much less the TT community. We want to apologise. To err is human and rectify is wise,”a detainee read on behalf of his compatriots.
On Wednesday morning, several relatives of those arrested told Newsday at least 160 of the detainees were still at the heliport.
Immigration authorities released 40 after evaluating their cases. So far it is unknown what has happened to the rest.
“The authorities are giving them their three meals a day and water, but they don’t allow us to bring them other food on our own,” said the mother of one of the detained girls, speaking on condition of anonymity.
She said her daughter had told her several detainees have health problems.
“We ask the authorities to expedite their cases, but above all to provide precise and constant information to avoid rumours,” she said.
On Saturday night, the police arrested 200 undocumented migrants at the Apex bar.
Since then, various civic organisations which support the migrant community in TT and the Caribbean have requested the release of the detainees.
Last week the High Court issued a ruling that migrants can be deported by TT authorities, even if they are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as refugees or asylum-seekers.
Currently 9,000 Venezuelans are submitting documentation to obtain a fifth extension of the work permits issued to them in 2019 through an amnesty.
The fate of other Venezuelans and other migrants in TT without permission to stay here is in the hands of the authorities.