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No ISIS refugees in T&T

Published: 
Sunday, January 3, 2016
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been fleeing violence and conflict in their country and seeking refuge, mainly in Europe and America.

Reports that scores of refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria have entered T&T are not true. Former Arima Mayor Ghassan Youseph said only “a few, young Christian Syrian men” have sought refuge in this country.

“If they stay in Syria, they will be drafted into the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and that is a certain death sentence. I know the national Syrian army, it is compulsory service for two years.

Youseph, a national of Syria, said it was extremely difficult to even travel out of Syria. He would like to bring some of his relatives to Trinidad for his son’s wedding this year, but is facing too many challenges.

Before the refugee crisis, he said, it was possible to get a direct flight from Lebanon with an overnight stop in London, then to Trinidad. However, to get to T&T from Syria now involves a more circuitous route through the United Arab Emirates, then Brazil and Panama before arriving in T&T.

According to Youseph, any recent Syrian arrivals were likely being sponsored by members of the local Syrian community who would be responsible for them while they were in T&T

Rochelle Nakhid, programme coordinator of the Living Water Community’s Ministry For Refugees and Asylum Seekers, said there were just 200 refugees and asylum seekers, including children, currently in T&T. They are from Cuba, Syria, Colombia, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

Nakhid said the number of refugees arriving in T&T varied each year. Her organisation resettled approximately 20 people to third countries this year, mainly the United States. There are also spontaneous departures or onward secondary movements.

Nakhid said there was no law governing refugees in T&T, although there was a policy that was approved by Cabinet which has already facilitated the training of local immigration officials by their US counterparts in the adjudication of asylum claims.

Nakhid said T&T was a leader in the region with regard to refugee protection.

Living Water Community founder and director Rhonda Maingot said the organisation represents the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in T&T and works with refugees that come to the country seeking asylum because their lives are in danger in their own countries.

Maingot said when refugees arrived in T&T, the organisation first tried to establish whether the person was really a refugee seeking international protection. The group also works with the Immigration Department and helps refugees find accommodation.

Honorary Consul for the Syrian Arab Republic in T&T and the Caribbean, Marwan Yousef, brother of Ghassan Youseph, denied that any of the Syrian asylum seekers in T&T were running away from ISIS or the war. He said there were less than 11 of them in the country up to last year and those who chose to stay had applied for work permits.

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