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‘They will be sent back to Canada’

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

THE NINE members of the “orthodox Hasidic Jewish group” Lev Tahor who were denied travel to Guatemala when they entered Trinidad and Tobago on Monday will be sent back to Canada, a release from the Office of the Attorney General has stated.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday defended the actions of this country’s Immigration officials in dealing with the nine Lev Tahor members.

On Monday around 5 a.m., the Lev Tahor members arrived in Trinidad on board a WestJet flight in transit to Guatemala through Trinidad and Tobago from Toronto, Canada, .

Speaking to the Express on the situation on Wednesday, director of the National Operation Centre, Commander Garvin Heerah , said when  group members were interviewed by Immigration officials, “inconsistencies in their responses” were discovered.

“As a consequence and in adherence to international immigration protocols the group was rejected and advised of their inability to travel on to Guatemala,” he said.

The action of the Immigration officials was, however, condemned by attorney Farai Hove Masaisai who represented the group.

On Wednesday, Masaisai wrote to Griffith, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Chief Immigration Officer, the United Nations and Amnesty International on the situation.

Masaisai said when he contacted Immigration officials to determine the whereabouts of the Lev Tahor nine he was told no one was there.

“In an effort to ascertain the truth I then took the decision to personally visit the Piarco International Airport and it was with my own eyes the conditions in which the above mentioned individuals were kept in was witnessed,” Masaisai stated in his letter.

He said he saw “weary children and adults who had not eaten or been allowed to bathe”.

“They were sitting in the cold airport and in a strange country with no one there to render any form of assistance,” he stated.

“I was told of incidents where they were threatened by Immigration officers and they were fearful for their safety here in Trinidad. The manner in which they were treated personally brought me to a fundamental low and made me heavily embarrassed and ashamed to call myself a Trinidadian,” Masaisai stated.

The matter was yesterday heard at the Port of Spain High Court before Justice Vashiest Kokaram where an application for habeas corpus was filed and which was dismissed by the judge.

The application was filed on Wednesday and heard on an “emergency basis” yesterday.

“At present, all members of the group are under the care and custody of WestJet authorities pending their return to Canada,” the release for the Attorney General’s office stated yesterday.

Ramlogan defended the decision of the Chief Immigration Officer and his charges in this matter.

“The Central Authority Unit has been liaising with its counterpart in Canada and has been advised that the children are subject of a Child Protection Order in the province of Quebec in Canada,” the release stated.

“This order awarded custody of the children to the Department of Child Protection in Quebec. That decision was appealed and the Court of Appeal of Ontario (yesterday) dismissed the appeal thereby confirming the custody order,” the release stated.

“It would therefore appear that the adults fled to Trinidad whilst their appeal was pending,” the release stated.

Griffith has also added his voice to the commendation of the Immigration officials in the matter.

“What I can assure you is that the Immigration Department was very professional in the performance of their duties. They discovered inconsistencies and it is confirmed that all that was required were offered to the individuals,” Griffith said at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference.

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