Help me save these boys in Syria

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

Letter from ROGER WATERS, co-founder of the rock group Pink Floyd, which he sent to the TT Government, urging it to help him bring young Trinidadian brothers Mahmud and Ayyub Ferreira back home from Syria.

IT IS A tradition, at this time of year, for us to make commitments for the upcoming year. I had planned to ponder my own in front of a blazing fire in the Swiss Alps. Now, in light of certain developments I may have to take action instead. I am writing this because the Trinidadian government needs to shake a leg and show some action as well.

Five days before Christmas, US President Donald Trump blithely tweeted that America would withdraw at once from northeast Syria: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.”

I’m told his hasty decision came in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who had just offered to pay US$3.5 billion for a US missile system (more than the 30 pieces of silver some people get paid for such a betrayal).

Peddling arms around the Middle East has caused untold harm across the region, but this most recent deal might just prove to be Trump’s most devastating and immoral deal yet.

My particular interest comes in the shape of two young boys from Trinidad, Mahmud and Ayyub Ferreira, who are now 11 and seven years old. They have not seen their mother Felicia Perkins since June 20, 2014, the day after Ayyub’s third birthday, when their father Abeeb kidnapped them from Port of Spain and hauled them halfway across the world to Raqqa, in Syria.

Abeeb joined the ISIS crusade, and subsequently found himself a new wife. The "caliphate" crumbled in 2017, whereupon Abeeb packed the boys into a car, and told the driver to take them to Turkey with their stepmother.

Boys will be boys, and according to their stepmother they misbehaved in the back seat. To teach them a lesson, she put them out on the side of the road, in the middle of the Syrian civil war, and left them there. It was only good fortune that the Syrian Defence Force (SDF) were the ones who found them. Led by Kurds, the SDF has variously been battling ISIS and the Assad regime since the revolution in 2011.

Over a year ago now, Mahmud and Ayyub ended up in Camp Roj, a detention centre in the northeast corner of Syria for those deemed prisoners of war. For a while they slept where they could – sometimes in the camp toilets – until a kindly American Christian, Samantha Sally, took them into a tent to shelter with her own four children.

It is bitterly cold in Northern Syria right now, the kids remain in Camp Roj. I met with Clive Stafford Smith recently in London and I have joined him in a New Year resolution to get them back to their mother as soon as possible. Felicia waits, desperate, to fly to the region to escort her children home.

The TT Prime Minister, Keith Rowley, was collared by a Guardian reporter at a Christmas political fundraising raffle outside a supermarket in the affluent Westmoorings neighbourhood. The reporter demanded what the Government was going to do for Felicia and the two boys.

“We have to rely on the international community and the information of people who are in contact with their families out there,” he replied.

Well, here is the information: Clive and I will do the work. I will fund their flights. But Trinidad must give us travel documents to allow them to come home. It is depressing to read in these pages that the Government “does not seem to care” about the two children. Certainly the Government has hardly responded with alacrity to our request for passports.

We are determined to make it work, but it is not going to be easy, in part because President Erdogan promises a new invasion of Syria to “eradicate” his enemies. Unfortunately, Erdogan wants to “eradicate” the Kurds of northeast Syria. The region is officially called the “Self-Administration Area of North East Syria.” While it is an inelegant title, the acronym is apt: SANE Syria, the experiment with social democracy led by the Syrian Kurds, that includes citizens of all ethnicities and religions.

As we know, Syrian President Bashar Assad is no friend of democracy, and the SANE Syria project may soon be crushed between the rock of Turkey and the hard place of Assad. The SDF will fight hard because their freedom is at stake – they have lost 8,000 soldiers (men and women) in the battle thus far. They may die in still larger numbers, if deserted by their Western allies, as they have no air force and both the Assad regime and the Turks can and probably will bomb them

Their dream will die, and so will many of those who previously fled ISIS – including Mahmud and his younger brother Ayyub. I am no lover of American interventionism but at least to date they have acted as a human shield for these Trinidadian kids and many others. This may soon come to an end.

All this puts my holiday plans in perspective and tells me that the warm fireplace in the Alps may well have to wait. I hope that the Trinidadian government takes a similarly urgent approach. The passports need to be in London within a week at the outside, or the boys may become statistics – like the two children who died in the Camp Roj earlier this year. Can we please have assurances that this small government service will be completed at once?


"Help me save these boys in Syria"

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