AS 2019 begins, Felicia Perkins-Ferreira faces the start of another year without her two young sons, both stranded in far off Syria.
Four and a half years since the children were taken to that war-torn country by their father, who joined the militant group ISIS, Perkins-Ferreira says she is disturbed by the TT Government’s response to the situation.
“It seems like they don’t care. They never called or asked to see me. I’ve been waiting years to hear anything from them and it’s always the same story and I’m tired. If it wasn’t for the journalists and Clive (Stafford Smith, founder of human rights organisation Reprieve) taking on my story, I would have been still waiting for them to acknowledge me.”
The boys, 11-year-old Mahmud and seven-year-old Ayyub, are in Roj camp, northern Syria along with other children from the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands. Initially set up as a site for Syrians displaced by war, it is now run by the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces.
They want to repatriate the children of dead ISIS members before a renewed military offensive engulfs north-east Syria.
The boys are among an estimated 1,200 foreign children left in limbo since Raqqa was liberated in October 2017.
Their father, Abebe Oboi Ferreira, presumed dead, sent Mahmud and Ayyub fleeing to safety with his ISIS bride, a Belgian national, but instead of taking the boys to Turkey, the woman abandoned them by the side of the road, where they were picked up and taken to Roj camp.
Perkins-Ferreira says she made a report about the abduction of her children in 2014, at the Four Roads Police Station. Later in 2014, she was directed by the police to one Inspector Hercules to whom she gave details of the case.
She says the Red Cross, whose humanitarian aid workers are present in the camp in Roj, have been assisting her and occasionally allowing her to speak with her sons. She says the international aid agency is, “basically just waiting on the Government to give them the okay to get my boys. Once they get that, my boys would be here. But the TT government is sticking, and I don’t know what the long hold up is for.”
She added: “It’s very hard having to live without my kids. I’m empty emotionally, and depressed. I can’t eat and it’s really hard on me, especially for my daughter who keeps asking for her brothers. Every time I see something that reminds me of them I cry and immediately get depressed.”
Smith, founder of Reprieve, the international legal aid non-profit group attempting to bring the children back home, said the group has been in touch with the government over the issue, although only recently. “I saw the boys just before Christmas,” Smith said.
He said he had a “rather futile” discussion with the attaché at the High Commission in London, who first said they (the brothers) could only talk to their mother.
“I pointed out that I have her authority, then they said it was a bilateral matter between TT and Syria. I pointed out that the boys are in north-east Syria which is not subject to regime control. They then said it was a matter for the ministry. I asked for the correct number and he (the attaché) said he did not know it.”
GET THEM OUT
Smith said he had a more constructive discussion with one Colin James at the National Security ministry earlier this week, who said he would accept the papers.
“I asked twice for a date when I could get the passports, but he has not got back to me on that.”
He said the group Reprieve needs travel documents for the boys, “whereupon I think and hope it will not be that complex to get the boys out and back to their mother. But an escalating war is looming in January since (US President Donald) Trump issued his misguided tweet, so time is of the essence.”
An article on the boys’ plight appeared in the UK Guardian on December 29 which stated: “Trinidad may be guilty of dragging its feet on repatriation”, and the Trinidadian authorities, “have shown little interest in reuniting the family.”
National Security Minister Stuart Young was asked in a text message about claims the government was dragging its feet and did not seem to care about bringing back the boys.
He responded: “The Government has a process that it is utilising. It appears that there are many agendas at play.
“The Government will abide by its process which is governed by national security and public interest. I am confident in our process. No more can be said at this stage.”