NATIONAL Security Minister Stuart Young has responded to reports that TT children were at the al-Hol camp in Syria reiterating that Government must verify facts before acting.
On Friday Newsday was told that close to where a few TT mothers and their children are holed up in the al-Hol camp, a 25-year-old woman from Iraq was attacked with a hammer. The Middle East Eye, an online newspaper, reported that photos have emerged showing the unhealthy conditions in the Kurdish-run camp including one photo of a child asleep, with flies around his mouth and eyes, with the caption “One of the Trinidadian children at al-Hol camp whom relatives are trying to bring home.”
Local activists, including Islamic Front leader Umar Abdullah, have been lobbying for Government to find the children and return them to TT.
Young, responding to Newsday in a WhatsApp message said "The Government’s position, as has been articulated previously, is that the Ministry of National Security has set up a multi-agency team, to provide policy, advice and necessary action on the issue of persons returning from ISIS war zones. This is Team Nightingale."
"We have a responsibility to verify claims before acting and the public’s interest is priority in exercising the associated duties."
He continued: "The deterioration in these zones of conflict (war zones) is of concern to many countries, including TT. From a national security perspective, facts must always be properly ascertained and verified before acting, these would include, but not be limited to, the nationality of persons."
Back in July, Opposition Senator Wade Mark asked whether Government intended to facilitate the return to TT of several women and children currently detained at the al-Hol camp. Young had replied he cannot confirm at this time that there are TT citizens at the camp.
Newsday asked Young yesterday if TT nationals had been confirmed at the camp but the message was not replied to up to press time, and three calls to his cellphone went unanswered.
In January this year two boys, aged seven and 11, arrived in Trinidad with their mother after being rescued from Roj refugee camp, also in northeastern Syria. The boys were taken from Trinidad four years ago by their father, who went to fight with ISIS in Syria. The brothers and their mother crossed the Iraqi border with human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith and were then flown to Switzerland with the help of Roger Waters of the rock band Pink Floyd before flying to London and then to Trinidad.
A National Security Ministry release had said Team Nightingale, which was formed to deal with the possible repatriation and reintegration of TT nationals who have been held in refugee and detention camps in Iraq and Syria, was involved in the boys' return. But Stafford Smith dismissed this in a letter describing the team as "utterly useless" and said those responsible for this "disgusting" press release "should hang their heads in shame, and apologise."
According to reports between 2014 and 2016 approximately 130 men, women and children migrated to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. Reports said most of the men were killed in battle with international coalition forces while the women and children were captured and put in refugee camps.