"Bring these 25 children and adults home from Syria." That appeal was made in letters to Government on May 24 and up to last Friday by the Concerned Muslims of T&T (CMTT) group seeking to bring "home" children and adults who are relatives of Islamic State (Isis) fighters.
They have been at the al Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria following Isis' collapse to international forces in the last year—and relatives of theirs in T&T have asked CMTT to seek their return.
The individuals are connected to T&T nationals who joined Isis in conflict zones over the period the terrorist group recruited people worldwide from 2012.
The children range in ages from one to nine years and some were born in Syria recently.
Also located at the camp are people from 30 to 40 countries who were detained when Isis toppled. Camp population up to last week was 73,043 with very poor conditions, the United Nations stated. ( See below)
In 2016, former national security minister Edmund Dillon said 130 T&T nationals—fighters and families—went to Isis conflict zones. A subsequent figure of 180 was given in the 2017 Budget debate. An intelligence list obtained by Guardian Media in 2016 showed 105 departing—including families—over 2012/2015. This included former Enterprise resident Shane Crawford and others officially deemed terrorists and killed in battle in 2017.
CMTT, headed by Imam Sheraz Ali and Imtiaz Mohammed, sent letters on May 24 and up to last Friday to the Foreign Affairs and National Security ministers seeking the State's intervention to bring "home" the children and adults. They submitted lists of those in camps. (See list)
CMTT represents some congregations within T&T's Muslim community including some mosques in North, Central, and South. The letter acknowledged there are different sects in the community, the vast majority of whom are peaceful, law-abiding citizens. And there has been a rise in fundamentalism across the board.
But the group stated it was approached by "relatives of some of our citizens who're now reportedly suffering at the al Hol camp, particularly women and children. Our feedback suggests most of the T&T men who'd been in Syria and Iraq have been killed...We've already received reports of the death of some of our children in the camp."
CMTT said there was analysis to obtain data on those who went to conflict zones.
Mohammed subsequently said the children and others in the camp include relatives of T&T fathers killed in battle.
He acknowledged some of the men may have also taken foreign second wives and had children, while children could also have been born to T&T women with other foreign fighters.
"But the most are from T&T mothers and T&T men. Only one or two of the men we've learned had Syrian wives. Local relatives of these people want their kin back home. They were contacted by some in the camp who might have been able to borrow a phone, or via the Red Cross."
Saying the Children's Act allows the adoption of foreign children, Mohammed added, "Government has a responsibility to seek the interest of citizens in parts of the world despite their situation/involvement and assist in returning them or resolving their situation. Some of these children lost parents. These are mothers and daughters, they pose no threat."
'Isis orphans being sent home'
CMTT is willing to meet repatriation costs. Its letter stated, "We already have mechanisms and personnel within the Muslim community willing to provide much-needed support for the integration of these citizens and are willing to deepen collaboration with state officials to monitor and promote the safety and security of the rest of the population."
The group said if Government made an official report to the North/East Syrian administration for release of the people, CMTT would send "at least two representatives from among the families to accompany any state official".
The group noted Felicia Perkins who went to Syria and found her two sons in a camp with International Red Cross help.
Other CMTT members noted since April and this month orphaned children "from Isis families" were handed over to foreign ministries of Sudan, US, France, Holland, Belgium.
Govt handles returnee issues very carefully—Young
While there was no word from Foreign Affairs' Dennis Moses did not reply, National Security Minister Stuart Young responding to emailed queries and whether Team Nightingale will be asked to examine the issue, said he wasn't quite certain what letters were being referred to. But he stressed, "The Government handles all issues associated with any returnees from the Isis war zones very carefully.
"Team Nightingale was set up as a multi-agency task force reporting to the Minister of National Security to deal specifically with the complexities of persons claiming to be citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who may be in the war zones or areas near to the war zones.
"The Government will protect the public's interest and will not be unduly influenced by any individual(s) or agencies, including international agencies with agendas, into compromising the process and policies designed to deal with this situation."
CMTT members scheduled to attend a dinner at the Prime Minister's residence Saturday night honouring late Imam Mushtaq Ahmad Sulaimani said they would try seeking a meeting with Young.
CMTT hits US warning on returnees.
Mohammed slammed last Friday's warning by Chief Military Liaison officer Col Claudia Carrizales that returning fighters could pose a threat to T&T. She said nationals detained in Syria and Iraq "are expected to return this year" and "hardened" fighters detained in camps will eventually return.
CMTT saw the statements as seeking to "...discredit the British government's recent advisory to downgrade the terror threat coming from T&T, and brainwash T&T's population into believing Muslims are capable of committing horrific, heinous terrorist crimes against the rest of the population especially the business sector.
"The colonel's contradicted July 2018 statements by Saeed Irfan, State Department Director of Counter-Terrorism in Washington who called for T&T's Government to allow our citizens to return and assist their reintegration."
Mohammed said the colonel's comments on the Carnival plot were "absurd" since no one was charged. "What's her agenda raising this issue with the business chamber and the rest of T&T? I'm happy she saw those arrested during the Carnival weekend as 'boy scouts'. This supports our position it was a hoax."
•Faranah Khan (Umm Abdurrahmaa)—plus two boys age ten and five; girl, one year.
• Sawdah Khan (Umm Suhailah)—plus girl age six; boys, ages four and two.
•Rafiah Khan (Umm Hafs)—plus boy and girl, ages not stated.
•Afiesha Mohammed (Umm Ruqayyah)—plus boys 12, 11, three and one; and girl, nine.
•Other children: approximately five girls ages one to seven plus boys, ages one to eight and nine.
• Gillian Ramirez, age 42.
•Hamzah Abdul Azia, age 30.
•Saadiyyah Baksh, age 27.
• Sulaiman Abdul Aziz, age 34.
•Amadi Alimayu, age 32—plus three children. She left T&T pregnant and her husband died there two years ago. Children—Nasser de Montrichard (nine), Jehan de Montrichard (five), Suhail de Montrichard (three, born in Syria).
•Sharifa Simon and daughter.
•Imtahal Abdal Karim and two children.
SOS for Team Nightingale to return them
CMTT's legal advisers feel the issue is a job for Government's multi-agency Team Nightingale constituted in August 2018 by Young to deal with possible repatriation/reintegration of citizens held in refugee/detention camps in Syria and Iraq.
The team was announced in the issue of Perkins sons' repatriation from Syria's Roj refugee camp.
Then, Government said the team did a complex, detailed investigation/verification exercise to ascertain the facts. That process runs parallel with developing a process and procedure for repatriation and reintegration which would include assessing the status of returning nationals.
Upon the return of any minors/adult nationals from Isis in Iraq and Syria battlefronts the team's various elements have different roles to play, including, assessing the best environment for minors who may have experienced the trauma and ill effects of being in, or around, war zones and battlefronts. Any returnees will be assessed by appropriate authorities upon return.
But security experts said the Government must ensure a deradicalisation plan to assist people brought to T&T.
They said even if people said "they just went with their husbands", it didn't mean they weren't radicalised. They said deradicalisation programmes and mandatory counselling will be important for T&T ahead and is particularly necessary since the Anti Terrorism law's strength is in arrest, but conviction rates aren't good.
Red Cross liaising with Rio claro imam on relatives in Iraq
Peter Maurer International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) head is quoted in an April Agence France-Presse report saying hundreds of "children of Isis" should be reunited with families and repatriated to countries of origin.
He was referring to people at the al Hol camp. He said ICRC's priority was to bring children back to their country of origin. After the identities of children are verified, ICRC notifies governments in the children's country of origin to determine whether there are relatives willing to take minors.
Rio Claro imam Nazim Mohammed told Guardian Media last Friday the Red Cross has been in touch with him a lot regarding his daughter, three granddaughters and their own seven children detained in Iraq. The adult women who left T&T in 2015 are serving 20-year sentences each for suspected Isis links.
Mohammed said the Red Cross visited him up to recently, but he "had no word" how the women were doing.
He said he received no response to his calls for Government assistance to bring his relatives home. Mohammed was involved in the 1990 failed coup attempt.
Bad conditions at al Hol (use MAP)
Last week, US' National Public Radio (NPR) reported that UN human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet at a Human Rights Council said the al-Hol camp—where some 11,000 people believed to be the wives and children of foreign Isis fighters are living—has "deeply substandard conditions".
She's quoted saying foreign family members "should be repatriated unless they're to be prosecuted for crimes”.
Bachelet said suspected Isis fighters must either be tried or let go and their families cannot be detained indefinitely. The UN estimated 55,000 suspected Isis fighters and family members were detained since Isis was toppled.
Reports said there was a slight reduction in initial camp figures and an increase in the number of third-country nationals repatriated by their countries of origin, including children.
NPR this month described an increase in the number of cases of acute diarrhoea in the camp—1,071, plus reported shortages of safe drinking water and lack of a blood bank at the three field hospitals.