Trinidad and Tobago’s legislators need to formalise a policy for immigration with clear and cohesive legislation.
That was the comment made by High Court judge, Justice Frank Seepersad on Tuesday, before he awarded $500,000 to a Gambian national, who was detained at the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) for more than 13 months.
Mustapha Touray had entered Trinidad and Tobago illegally in March 2017 and a detention order was made against him on August 14, 2017, and he was detained at the IDC.
The state attempted to deport him in April 2018 but he was refused entry by Turkey where he would have been in transit on his way to Gambia.
Touray returned to the IDC and after a writ of habeas corpus was filed he was ordered released on July 5, 2019 by the high court.
Justice Seepersad heard the matter in which Touray claimed damages for his detention at the IDC and delivered his judgement on Tuesday.
The Gambian claimed he was “falsely incarcerated without lawful authority by the defendant and that the acts of the defendant in detaining him from June 1, 2018 to July 5, 2019 were humiliating, undignified, occurred in distressing circumstances and caused him severe mental suffering, frustration and humiliation.”
In his witness statement, Touray said he was kept in a dormitory at the IDC with between 17 to 35 other detainees. He said the dormitory was 16 feet by 16 feet and he slept on the floor in a thin, dirty mattress when beds were not available depending on the number of detainees in it.
He said the dormitory was dirty and littered with garbage and there were men from different countries which made communications difficult due to the language barrier.
Touray said there were frequent fights among the detaineesHe said one toilet and two bathrooms were shared among 50 of them. He said he had to shower in the full view of the other detainees.
Justice Seepersad said, “It is unfortunate that the State has abdicated its responsibility to assist the court and it did not file a defence nor was explanation proffered as to what are the operative circumstances which militated against the claimant’s deportation and why a decision was taken to detain him at tax payers expense for over 400 days.”
The judge said there could be no dispute that Touray was deprived of his liberty and was previously detained in 2017 until his unsuccessful deportation in 2018.
He said his detention from April 2018 could have “shocked” his system.
The judge ordered that Touray be awarded $500,000 inclusive of an uplift for aggravated damages and interest of 2.5% per annum from the date of filing these proceedings.
Justice Seepersad said “The immigrations laws as they currently stand are problematic and require urgent attention.”
Justice Seepersad also recommended bonds to cover return airfare of illegal immigrants or “agreements enacted with those nations to permit visa-free entry provided that the said foreign state agrees to bear the cost of deportation if its citizen runs afoul of this nation’s immigration laws.”
He added, “Parliament may wish to consider the formalisation of a policy on migrants and effect clear and cohesive legislation which regulates same in a fair, transparent, equitable, unbiased manner which upholds democratic principles and accords with human rights and international law obligations.”