PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad- Immigration officials in Trinidad and Tobago are probing reports that foreigners arriving in the country are being charged a fee to facilitate a claim for asylum, even though they are not entering as refugees.

The Immigration Division says these non-nationals are even being told that they cannot be “touched by Immigration” once they receive an Asylum Seeker Certificate and that they can live and work freely in Trinidad and Tobago although they do not have the requisite legal documents.

“These allegations are being investigated by the appropriate agencies,” the Ministry of National Security said in a statement.

“The Government of Trinidad and Tobago is concerned that many foreigners have entered the country illegally or have overstayed the landing permission granted to them by the Immigration Division and, as a result, may become susceptible to exploitation because of their irregular immigration status.”

The statement said those breaches of national security will not be tolerated by the government and every effort would be taken to prevent exploitation of foreign nationals, while at the same time, continue to protect this country’s borders.

The planned investigation into the alleged racket was announced in the same statement in which the Ministry of National Security addressed the controversial deportation of 82 Venezuelan nationals last Saturday.

The Dr Keith Rowley-led administration insisted that contrary to claims being made by the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and attorneys for some of the Venezuelans, they went voluntarily.

UNHCR had insisted that among those sent back to Venezuela were some registered asylum-seekers and people who had declared an intention to apply for refugee status. And it accused the government of being in “breach of international refugee law” by sending them back home.