Letter to the Citizens of T&T from the Grandparents of the Children detained at the Al-Roj camp

This letter was written during the first quarter of 2022 since then they have lost the two cases they filed in the High Court of T&T, the government continues to refuse to act on bringing our children home and has failed to-date to lay the amended anti-Terrorism Act in the Parliament. The children are then abandoned to their fate in the camp as the humanitarian situation is in crisis and the geopolitical situation worsens with a resurgence of the Islamic State and the announced strategy to establish a buffer zone that encapsulates the AANEs/the SDF and gives space for a deepening resurgence of IS.

A Letter to the Nation of Trinidad and Tobago

Re: The Undue Delay by the Government of T&T to Repatriate the Children and Women Detained in the Camps in Syria

Date:

Dear Citizens of T&T,


As we witness the start of the new year, a year filled with hope and expectations of better days ahead, we the guardians of the seventy- two children and twenty-five women detained in the camps in Northeastern Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), wish to bring it to your attention that it will be three years that we have been begging for their repatriation to T&T. Right now, as we all sit comfortably in our homes, warm, safe and with adequate food and water, these children and women are freezing in winter and bearing scorching summer temperatures in insecurely fastened and erected plastic/canvas tents, not knowing when they will receive their next meal from the camp authority. These children, most of them under the age of 10, are left in limbo for another year in deplorable unsanitary conditions with no education or adequate medical care. The gradual decline in the physical and mental health of our relatives is heart breaking and unbearable for us, the guardians. We find ourselves asking once more, when will the government of our country engage with one or more of the numerous international collaborators who are willing to assist upon request in the exercise of the repatriation of our children and women to T&T? When will the Government of T&T form and send an official delegation to the camps in Syria and Iraq to locate, identify and conduct a census of our citizens vitally necessary to the exercise of repatriation? When will the Government of T&T engage with the guardians and relative s towards outlining its plan for rehabilitation and reintegration of the repatriated children and women into the T&T social order?

Since 2019, we have tried various avenues to get assistance from the Government of T&T through its various Ministries, to address this situation. Letters were written to the President, the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Minister of National Security, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, just to name a few. We have tried on many occasions to get a meeting with the Attorney General and a member of Team Nightingale. To-date only the President of the Republic has replied. We met with representatives of the International Red Cross several times who indicated their willingness to aid in repatriating the children and women with approval of the Government of T&T. In 2020 after more than a year of silence from the Government, the guardians and relatives had no choice but to seek redress in the Courts of T&T. Yet again, undue delays continued in the judicial process with no consideration of the dire conditions of the camps and the threat to the lives of its inmates. Does the Government have no care nor concern for the lives of these innocent children as they continue to delay this matter in the Courts? These are citizens of T&T and they have rights that continue to be cast aside and ignored as they wait in limbo to return home.

The “call to repatriate” has been made by several NGOs, the United Nations, the President of the United States, the European Parliament, the US military command in charge of the Syrian theater of operations, the Executive President of the Syrian Democratic Council (AANES) and others. T&T was even placed on a “shame list” by the United Nations for failing to repatriate its citizens from the camps in Syria and Iraq. The US military command in Syria has offered to help any country with citizens in the camps in Syria to repatriate them to their countries of origin once the request is made by the government of that country. In September 2021, the United Nations developed a Global Framework to provide technical and financial support to any member state or state affiliate willing to repatriate and rehabilitate its citizens from Syria. With so much assistance being rendered to any country to help repatriate its citizens, it makes you wonder why our government hasn’t accepted any international help and brought our citizens home. This refusal to accept help, demonstrates a lack of concern and shows blatant discrimination meted out to a religious group of T&T.

Are these Innocent Children Terrorists?

It is an imperative for persons of T&T to know that the Government has in fact repatriated six children and two mothers in 2016 and 2019 from the Al Roj camp, Syria fully funded by the State. The Government has then set a precedent which it does not abide by as it is only selectively applied. Why some and not all? These two women and six children were repatriated by the government without any amendment to the anti-terrorism act made and this repatriation exercise has been to-date incident free from 2016 to now and were any of those repatriated proven to be a threat to national security? Photos of T&T Islamic State fighters who are deceased are being used to taint the children and women as terrorists by insinuating that they in fact pose the same threat as the deceased Islamic State foreign fighters. Where is the evidence to label innocent children as present and future terrorist threats? Why must a government resort to these tactics which destroys the future of an innocent child by labeling them a terrorist because of the actions of their parents, alive and deceased! The fact that six children and two women were repatriated indicates that it is feasible for all the children and women of T&T in Syria and Iraq, it is possible if there is political will to so do. It is evident that it is possible and the refusal to do so is shameless neglect and abandonment by the Government of its citizens. Repatriation is inevitable and is presently ongoing from the camps in Syria and there is a shrinking number of nations refusing to repatriate their citizens and T&T is a member of this shrinking group of recalcitrant nations. This recalcitrant position can and will have geopolitical impact upon T&T where one day our citizens will simply be flown back to T&T and offloaded at Piarco. While many countries are accepting collaboration with international organizations and NGOs and repatriating their citizens from these camps, our government continues to leave our citizens in indefinite limbo in camps that are in humanitarian crisis.

We, the guardians, relatives, concerned citizens and well-wishers have a simple request to ask our government. Please avail yourselves of the opportunities and assistance being offered by the international community and NGOs to help with repatriation of our vulnerable citizens. We are pleading to those in governmental authority to grant these citizens emergency travel documents that will enable them to return home with a chance to free them from these agonizing conditions, please do not ignore the violation of their basic rights any longer. We sincerely hope that this will be the year that we will be reunited with our loved ones. We are calling for the people of T&T to now support us in our bid to have our children and women repatriated from the camps to T&T. We are giving the nation the assurance that the public safety of the people of T&T is uppermost in our minds and actions. To this end we have formulated a policy for rehabilitation and reintegration of repatriated children and women into the social order of T&T that is risk aversion centered. The guardians and relatives are calling for volunteers in this project of rehabilitation and reintegration of those repatriated. Please help us to ensure the success of the project thereby assuring the public safety of T&T. The guardians and relatives are willing to withdraw all court matters pending, providing the Government indicates its willingness to now embrace transparent negotiation.

Yous Sincerely

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