Port of Spain, Trinidad — A Caribbean Airlines (CAL) plane was chartered at a cost of $2.6 million (US$409,000) to deport illegal immigrants back to Ghana on Sunday following a marathon 12 hours of hearings before the high court and court of appeal in Trinidad on Saturday in a bid to stop the flight.
CAL flight 763 departed Piarco International Airport around 7 am on Sunday, with approximately 15 illegal immigrants from Ghana and some 12 Special Branch officers on board.
Before the flight, lawyers for the state — Gerald Ramdeen and deputy Solicitor General Neil Byam — as well as attorneys for some of the immigrants, Faris Scoon and Richard Isaac, had battled before the court in Port of Spain, first at the high court from 7 pm to 1 am and then to the court of appeal from 2 am to 5.45 am.
Legal sources told the Express that these sittings were extremely exceptional as they were known in the past to occur for death penalty matters, where warrants of execution were challenged to stop the death penalty from being carried out.
The court hearings took hours because each was heard individually, with the exception of one.
There were five applications for judicial review from Ghanaians Abdul Raheem Suleiman, Henry Mensah, Ernest Aglago (these two were heard together as one application), Abdullah Pechie, Olatunji Thomas Adams and Richard Osoir Appiah.
Mensah and Aglago, who have been illegally in Trinidad since 2005 and who attempted to seek refugee status from the United Nations through the Living Waters community, stating that they were fearful of returning to Ghana because of the Ebola virus.
Ghanaian Seibu Abdulai made an application for habeas corpus.
The men tried to challenge the deportation order of the chief immigration officer but failed at the high court.
Justice Ricky Rahim rejected their applications and also ruled that they pay the state’s legal costs.
Their attorneys immediately appealed Justice Rahim’s ruling and proceeded to the court of appeal, where Justice Gregory Smith heard the matter and also dismissed all the applications and ordered that the deportation order be executed.
Following Justice Smith’s orders the men were immediately whisked away to Piarco, where the CAL plane was waiting to take them to Ghana.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told the Trinidad Express on Sunday that the action by the state was warranted and stressed that there was no witch hunt against immigrants.
“The rule of law has prevailed and the process was followed. A historic emergency session of the high court and court of the appeal was necessary to avoid any further delay and unwarranted expenditure that can surpass $2 million,” he said.
Ramlogan justified the $2.6 million private charter, saying that it was difficult to get visas for these men to travel back to Ghana through commercial flights, as countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Brazil did not want to grant the intransit visas.
The AG said some illegal immigrants have a track record related to criminal activities.
He said one of the persons who applied for judicial review travelled to the United Kingdom and was held in England for transporting drugs from Trinidad.
Ramlogan said that person was sent back to Trinidad after he served his sentence in the UK.
“Our intelligence suggests that there are many dimensions to this problem, including links to the gangs, drugs, arms and other crimes that have plagued our society,” he noted.
Ramlogan said the state will remain flexible and open in hearing each case and will be fair based on the evidence provided.
However, he said, no attempts to misuse the country’s immigrations laws as a cover for criminal activities will be tolerated.
Asked about the cost to charter the plane, the AG said: “We had no choice in the matter, in law it is the home country that is responsible for the cost of repatriation, unfortunately there are countries that refuse to pay and it becomes a burden on our taxpayers.