A Latin American man stranded here for months no longer appears to be stateless and is one step closer to returning to his reputed homeland.
But Juan Abrahan Ramirez Rijo remains in custody at HMP Dodds as immigration officials seek to secure him a valid Dominican Republic travel document to repatriate him.
The Immigration Department today revealed that it was now in possession of Ramirez’s birth certificate following in-depth investigations through local and international entities of his identity. The Dominican Republic has so far refused to accept his return without documentary evidence of his nationality.
Speaking through an interpreter, Immigration Officer Terry Simmons told the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court: “We have in our possession a birth certificate for Mr Ramirez Rijo. Through the efforts and assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we have submitted the documents through the Dominican Republic Ambassador for Trinidad.
“Yesterday we, that is, the Chief Immigration Officer, myself, along with a representative from an international organisation visited Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds.
“We had a conversation with the Ambassador and his assistant [and] the Ambassador and his assistant also communicated with Mr Ramirez Rijo,”
The 35-year-old construction worker, whose address is listed as Calle Sanches, Casa 112, San Pedro, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, has been on remand at Dodds for the past 28 days after pleading guilty to criminal damage.
He admitted to criminal damage at the Grantley Adams International Airport detention centre where he was being held initially. An external door, two door locks and hardware, a washroom doorframe and drywall were damaged as the stranded man became belligerent, the court had learned.
Sergeant St Clair Phillips told the court that when the accused first appeared in court on April 6, an immigration department supervisor was informed that Ramirez had defecated in the room and placed some of the faeces inside a Styrofoam container and pushed it under the door. He also held onto the door and shook it until it was damaged. His actions were caught on CCTV camera.
Ramirez was one of 13 people rescued by the crew of a cruise ship en route to Barbados on December 20 from a small vessel, which was adrift 47 nautical miles from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.
The 13, including a pregnant woman, were medically examined, found to be in good health, and were housed here “in a secure location” until they were identified. They were also allowed to contact family and friends in an effort to return home. After being held here for two weeks, all but Rijo were returned to their homeland.
But Simmons reported to Magistrate Douglas Frederick that his department had made progress with their repatriation efforts.
The immigration officer said: “We had a conversation with the Ambassador and his assistant [and] they have given an undertaking to seek authorisation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Dominican Republic in order to prepare a travel document in order to facilitate Mr Ramirez Rijo’s repatriation to the Dominican Republic.
“They have given us their commitment in bringing this matter to a resolution as quickly as possible. They have apologised for the delay.
“The Immigration Department is optimistic that we should be able to have a resolution to this matter and we are hoping that this could be done within the next two weeks or so.
“We have resubmitted a photograph of Mr Ramirez Rijo in order to assist in the preparation of the document. So we are awaiting a response from the Dominican Republic and we hope to have this matter resolve very quickly.”
Through the interpreter, Ramirez told the magistrate that he understood what was happening even as he made a request to be sent back to the same airport facility that he had damaged.
He submitted: “Since there is a solution so that I could get back to my country all I am asking you, sir, I don’t want to be in prison anymore. This prison is very, very bad… that is a death sentence. I promise you that within these two weeks I am going to behave well at the airport. The food can kill you over there [at Dodds], with the highest respects sir I am asking if you can help me in this regard.”
But Magistrate Frederick denied his request, saying: “You were at a facility that was more accommodating and the persons there have reported that they are afraid of [you] and in the circumstances I have no choice but to keep [you] at [HMP Dodds] for this short period.”
Ramirez responded: “Again in the prison is more suffering, all the time I am in prison it is sending me crazy and I have not even committed any crime. Your honour, no more prison, please! No more prison, please!
But the stranded man’s plea fell on deaf ears as he was again remanded to prison until May 20.