Families willing to pay for return of nationals at ISIS refugee camp

Justice Joan Charles. -
Justice Joan Charles. -

FAMILIES of nationals held at the Al Hol refugee camp in Syria say they are willing to agree to a civil contract for the repatriation of their loved ones and to cover the costs of bringing them home.

In a statement, the families said, “We are more than ready to comply with the necessary conditions to allow our loved ones to be merged appropriately back into society, but our efforts seem pointless.”

The statement was sent by attorneys of the firm Criston J Williams & Co on their behalf.

They expressed disappointment at the postponement of a court ruling on the status of women and children at the ISIS refugee camp.

Justice Joan Charles was expected to deliver her ruling on Wednesday, but wrote to attorneys asking for more time.

The families wrote: “For months we families of TT have been waiting with acute anticipation and anxiety for a High Court ruling scheduled for March 31.

“On this date, we prayed that the court would finally allow passports and other travel documents to be granted to the women and children of TT, our loved ones, who are currently living in the squalor of the Syrian refugee camp of Al Hol.

“The disappointment we feel is acute.”

The statement said some 70 children and 24 women were living a sordid existence at Al Hol.

“They endure extreme conditions and poor nutrition and are exposed to disease. Physical and sexual abuse is a real danger. The area has recently become a conflict zone, making their situation even more devastating and traumatic, and our fears even more severe. We cannot rest easy until our families are back home, but our government seems to be unfazed and unconcerned while their lives hang in the balance.”

The relatives pleaded with the Government to make good on a promise to look into the issue.

“When will our loved ones be rescued from this trauma? When will we be able to hold our little ones in our arms again? In the meantime, we continue to live under the shadow of frustration, disillusionment and acute anxiety.”

Before the court is a rolled-up application for leave for judicial review and a constitutional motion filed by the families of women and children at the Al Hol camp. They say the women and children form part of a vulnerable group because of their refugee status and are at risk of exploitation and abuse.

In their application, the families said they tried several times to have the issue of repatriation addressed since April last year.

They added that conditions at the camp were unsafe and unhealthy, with hardly any food or water, and there was an infestation of flies. Toilet facilities are holes dug in the ground.

The families said they are concerned about the women’s safety.

They also pointed out that at least five countries have repatriated their citizens from the camp, including France, the US and the UK, which started repatriating children.

They said the International Committee of the Red Cross was willing to assist in the repatriation of the women and children if the Government makes such a request.

The group has also written to the chief immigration officer asking for valid travel documents to verify the nationality of the women and children at the camp. Their attorneys asked for the necessary steps to be taken to facilitate their repatriation by providing them with valid travel documents.

At an earlier hearing before Charles, it was argued that as citizens they cannot be denied entry into the country. But attorneys for the State said it had not been established that they were citizens of TT.

The court's decision is now expected to be delivered on April 26.

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"Families willing to pay for return of nationals at ISIS refugee camp"

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