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Friday 13 December 2019
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News agency: ’71 Trini children in Syrian camp’

A MIDDLE East news site is reporting that almost 100 TT citizens, including 71 children, are being held at the al-Hol camp in northern Syria.

Middle East Eye has reported they were stuck at the dangerously overcrowded camp. where 70,000 people were mostly living in makeshift tents. The site said a group of Trinidadian children have made a plea to return home in audio messages obtained by the site.

"The developments are set to add pressure on the Caribbean government to speed up the repatriation process at a time when some countries have become more open to quickly evacuating their nationals as the security situation in the region deteriorates."

The story includes audio clips, purportedly from a Trinidadian brother and sister at the camp. The boy in the clip said he wanted to send love to his grandmother.

He says, "How you going? I miss you. I feeling sick. I want to hug you. I miss you. I want to see you. I want to come home. I feeling sick. And my belly hurting. I have chicken pox. Bob-bye."

He begins coughing before the clip ends.

The sister says assalamu alaikum (peace to you), and asks her grandmother how she is going.

"I miss you. This is (name given). When we coming home? I don't know. I want to come. I want to see you. I miss you. Bob-bye."

Local activists, including Islamic Front leader Umar Abdullah, have been lobbying for Government to find the children and return them to TT.

National Security Minister Stuart Young, in a WhatsApp message to Newsday last month, 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."

In January this year two boys, seven and 11, arrived in Trinidad with their mother after being rescued from Roj refugee camp, also in northeastern Syria.

The boys had been 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 said then that 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 statement describing the team as "utterly useless" and said those responsible for the "disgusting" press release "should hang their heads in shame, and apologise."

According to reports, between 2014 and 2016, approximately 130 men, women and children from TT 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, and the women and children were captured and put in refugee camps.

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