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Friday 6 December 2019
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Is Govt going to let TT children die in Syria?

British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. -
British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. -

British rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who was instrumental in helping to rescue two Trinidadian children from a Syrian camp, has questioned whether the TT Government was going to allow Trinidadian children to die in Syria.

“This truly is one of the moral issues of our generation – children locked up in what has become known as Guantanamo on the Euphrates. Is the TT Government going to let tens of entirely innocent Trini children die there in awful conditions, or is the Government going to do its job and get them home?” he told Newsday in an e-mail.

He was responding to reports from news site Middle East Eye that almost 100 TT citizens, including 71 children, are being held at the dangerously overcrowded al-Hol camp in Syria where 70,000 people were mostly living in makeshift tents.

The news site also reported photos had 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.”

In another article there were audio clips of two reported Trinidadian children asking their grandmother to bring them home.

Head of the Islamic Front Umar Abdullah and others have been lobbying the Government to bring the citizens home. In an interview with Newsday he expressed concern the children, some of whom had contracted small pox, may freeze to death with the upcoming winter season.

He had also announced families in TT were planning legal action to have Government repatriate their relatives from Syria.

In July, National Security Minister Stuart Young was asked about the reports of Trinidadians at al-Hol in Parliament and he responded that the reports had to be verified. He gave similar responses about verification to Newsday previously and to another media house about a week and a half ago, adding that some of the evidence was “disturbing”.

He also cited the multi-agency 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.

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 north-eastern 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 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 was involved in the boys’ return. But Stafford Smith dismissed this in a letter published in the Newsday, describing the team as “utterly useless” and said those responsible for this “disgusting” press release “should hang their heads in shame, and apologise.”

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