Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran told Parliament yesterday that plans are in train for an increase in visa allocations for the purpose of the Hajj. Dookeran said he met last week with the Saudi Arabian Minister in the Ministry of Justice, Dr Fahad AI Dawood who visited Trinidad and Tobago. They also discussed the strengthening of economic relations.
Dookeran’s statement to the House of Representatives was made against the background of the 23 Trinidad and Tobago Muslim nationals who were detained without bail on suspicion of being terrorists by the Venezuelan Intelligence Services on March 19. Those detained by Venezuelan authorities said they had travelled there to obtain visas to visit Saudi Arabia.
Dookeran gave an update on the Government’s efforts to investigate and secure the release of those detained.
A team of seven headed by Rear Admiral Richard Kelshall and which included legal and intelligence officers travelled to Caracas on March 27 and 28.
The team secured the release of 15 women and children, all who have since returned to Trinidad and Tobago. With respect to the eight persons still being held without bail, the Trinidad and Tobago ambassador in Caracas has been liaising with authorities to ensure legal access to the group, Dookeran said.
Dookeran said the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy was working with legal counsel which has appealed the no-bail ruling.
“I am informed that the appeal is expected to be heard in ten to fifteen days. The matter is still under the investigatory process and Rear Admiral Kelshall and I will continue to maintain regular contact with our ambassador in Caracas in this regard,” Dookeran said.
Of the eight detainees, three are imams, who said they were not part of any group but had come to secure visas at the Saudi Arabian consulate for Trinidadians who were going to the Hajj.
Dookeran said yesterday, “It is anticipated that for Hajj 2014, the Government of Saudi Arabia will again send Immigration officers to Trinidad and Tobago to process visa applications. As soon as the dates are confirmed, we will inform the public accordingly.”
He added, “This issue has caused much anguish in our society, understandably so and I empathise with those persons who have been affected. However, in our relations with other states including Venezuela, while making representations on behalf of our citizens, we must also abide by the laws of that state. I assure you that all diplomatic efforts are being made and we will continue to provide support for citizens who in their lawful pursuits are affected by these developments.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Government and Saudi Arabia established formal diplomatic relations in July 1974.
“Over the years, nationals of Trinidad and Tobago have travelled to Caracas to apply for visas to visit Saudi Arabia for Hajj. In recent years however, arrangements have been made with the government of Saudi Arabia to have immigration officers from Saudi Arabia travel to Trinidad and Tobago to process applications for Hajj visas.
“Last year the government of Saudi Arabia sent three officials to Port of Spain to issue visas for the 2013 Hajj. It should be noted that pilgrims are required to adhere to specific guidelines outlined by that said government for the issue of visas,” Dookeran said. (See full statement on Page 12)