Trinidad and Tobago court stops Nigerian man’s deportation

Jacqueline Wilson

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – A High Court judge here has stopped the deportation of a Nigerian national who is married to a Trinidadian.

Justice Jacqueline Wilson made the order on Saturday night, hours before 37-year-old Onekachi Eke Aka Emmanuel was due to be deported along with a group of immigrants from West Africa.

During the hearing of the emergency injunction, Emmanuel’s lawyers Criston J Williams and Shirvani Ramkissoon argued that his deportation would be unlawful as the Immigration Division took more than four and a half years to act.

They submitted that the Division is not authorised to detain a person for more than six months and in doing so had breached Emmanuel’s right to protection from cruel and inhumane treatment under the Constitution and several international human rights treaties to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory.

Emmanuel will remain at the Immigration Detention Centre in Trinidad until another judge decides whether he should be set free pending determination of his judicial review claim on Friday.

He said in an affidavit filed in his case that he came to Trinidad in September 2012 to visit friends and was initially permitted a three week stay. He was subsequently granted three extensions.

Emmanuel claimed he lost his passport while travelling in a taxi in December 2012 and was detained by immigration officials after it was returned a month later. He was allowed to stay for several months under the provision that he would purchase a return ticket to Nigeria to facilitate voluntary deportation.

While on an order of supervision, Emmanuel married his girlfriend, Christella La Fortune.

He visited the Immigration Division a month after his wedding to change his immigration status through his wife’s nationality and claimed that he was told to begin the process he would need to leave Trinidad and re-enter.

In October 2013, he left on a flight to Grenada and returned the same day. However, he was immediately detained by immigration officers, who questioned the validity of his marriage as his wife was not at the airport when he arrived.

He was eventually placed before a special immigration inquiry, at the end of which he was ordered to be deported.

“This causes me extreme distress because I am not a criminal for being unable to afford my ticket back to Nigeria,” Emmanuel said.

He claimed that during the four and a half years he has been at the Immigration  Detention  Centre on three occasions, due to overcrowding at that facility, he was taken the Eastern Correctional Rehabilitation Centre in Santa Rosa, which is used for convicted criminals.

He complained about inhumane conditions at both facilities, including poor ventilation, a lack of healthcare and poor quality food.

“The meals are rationed and consists only of carbohydrates which include mashed potatoes, macaroni and cassava. There is no protein for our dietary needs,” Emmanuel said.

In addition to declarations that the Immigration Division acted illegally, Emmanuel is seeking compensation for his protracted detention.