An international nonprofit organisation is trying desperately to secure travel documents for two T&T bothers currently stranded at a camp for women and children linked to Isis in Syria.
Mahmud Ferreira, 11, and his younger brother, Ayyub, 7, are at Camp Roj and are among an estimated 1,200 foreign children stranded in Syria since Isis was driven out of Raqqa in October 2017.
However, there is no word from Government on whether it is supporting efforts by the nonprofit group Reprieve, to reunite the boys with their mother, Felicia Perkins-Ferreira, who lives in Petit Valley.
According to a report in yesterday’s UK Guardian, the boys were taken out of the country in 2014 by their father, a former ISIS fighter, It is believed that their father was killed and they were abandoned on the roadside by their Belgian stepmother in Turkey. They were picked up by the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces and have since been alone in Camp Roj, a home for families of dead or imprisoned militants. However, their lives may be at risk if a planned strike of the city by Turkish forces materialises.
There are concerns that the boys might now be at risk following the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw the 2,000 US special forces who have been providing a buffer between Syria’s Kurds and neighbouring Turkey. There is an increasing possibility that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may follow through on his threat to invade north-east Syria.
Contacted for comment on the plight of the brothers, National Security Minister Stuart Young would not confirm where Government is taking steps to rescue the boys. He said it was a matter of national security and very sensitive.
“Various issues are currently attracting specific attention by a multi-agency committee put together by me, which will make recommendations to me. The matters are very complex and we are working with many international agencies attempting to verify the veracity of information as a start. At this time there is nothing further that can be said due to the sensitivity of the matter,” Young said.
However, that stance has been criticised by Islamic Front leader Umar Abdullah who said leaving the boys trapped in a conflict zone is a source of daily trauma for their family.
Abdullah said his organization has been trying to communicate with T&T nationals stranded due to the war and estimates that there are 30 of them there, mostly women.
The UK Guardian report stated that the boys are traumatised by their experiences but can remember their mother’s name. Perkins-Ferreira, who said she had only received intermittent news of her sobs in the last year said she has suffered from panic attacks since they were taken away by her ex-husband.
“When they left, he told me they were going to their grandmother’s house. The next day my sister came and she said he’d gone to Syria ... It wasn’t until a bit later I felt this emptiness and broke down crying,” she said.
The report quoted Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as saying: “We don’t have the machinery or the wherewithal to identify people and bring them back. We have to rely on the international community and the information from people who are in contact with their families out there.”
However, Abdullah says there has been no real effort by the government to have T&T nationals returned to their families despite several letters sent to the Attorney General’s office and the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.
He said while the Government claims it does not have the capability to identify nationals stranded in Syria and Iraq, his organisation had supplied information to them about a group of Trinidadians that were taken from Dula and Raqqaby bus to an unknown location. He said the men were taken off the bus and executed while the women were thrown into prison camps.
Abdullah said the Iraqi government is willing to repatriate these prisoners.
While travelling to Syria and Iraq is frowned upon, he said that nothing is wrong with Muslims seeking a better life by migrating to a caliphate.
“Government has always shown a particular face to the Muslim community in Trinidad and Tobago, and that has been one of deception. They lean on us for support when they go up for elections, but after that support, they do not support us in any way. They know full well what affects the Muslim community and the atrocities we face,” he said.
Abdullah said his organization is not against refugees and prisoners being investigated on their return home, but he wants the Government to make a greater effort.