ATTORNEY Nafeesa Mohammed has said there are still 24 women from Trinidad and Tobago and 70 children stuck in detention camps in Syria.
She said she has not stopped advocating for them to be able to return to this country and reunite with their families.
In 2018, Dr Simon Cottee, professor of criminology from the University of Kent, found over 42 children had been taken by their parents from their TT homes to ISIS battlegrounds in the Middle East since 2015.
Most of the men who ventured there were killed in war, with their wives and children now being housed at these camps.
Mohammed has been advocating for their safe return over the past three years.
She resigned from the PNM during the campaign for the 2020 general election and said the Government was uncaring towards nationals in refugee camps in Syria.
But attorney general Faris Al-Rawi said Mohammed’s statement of resignation was “largely based on self-interest of herself and her family, to which the Government could not accede.
“Nafeesa is saying to TT, these persons who are citizens of TT, their husbands were killed in action. What action? ISIS?...Did they volunteer to leave this country as ISIS fighters, take their wives who went willingly in support of ISIS, have children and God forbid they should expose their children...
“Those are breaches of the anti-terrorism laws in the world. So according to Nafeesa, forget that. ‘Don’t worry who may have been inculcated in ISIS or not. Just bring them home!’
“They didn’t leave on a holiday. They left for terrorism. They were killed in action in ISIS."
In August 2020, the families of those being held at the Kurdish-run al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria filed judicial review proceedings in the High Court challenging a delay by Stuart Young, then national security minister, in having them repatriated.
They said this was done because they had sent several letters to Al-Rawi but got no response.
In April 2021, Justice Joan Charles ruled there was neither a legislative nor a policy framework in place for repatriating nationals from conflict/war zones.
She said domestic law could not be enforced in another state’s territory without that state’s consent, and the group was not under the jurisdiction of the Syrian government or any state entity.
“Domestic law will not extend to matters occurring on foreign soil, over which Trinidad and Tobago have no control. The 12 persons, the subject of the claim, are detained in circumstances under which TT has no control,” she said.
On Wednesday, the BBC reported that children in these camps “face a lifetime in prison” and “are being moved from desert camps to secure children’s homes and on to adult prisons.”
It described the process as “a conveyer belt of incarceration.”
Mohammed told Newsday of the 70 children born of TT mothers there, 56 were under 12.
She also said 33 of them were born in Syria.
She said all the women there have “a verification bundle of documents that they can easily obtain to verify the citizenship of the women and children.
”The administrative authority maintains a database....they can easily establish confirming that these children were born to these mothers.”
She said the women are in their 20s and 30s, with knowledge of at least one over 40.
“These are women and children, these are vulnerable citizens of our country who are in dire need of protection. The relatives have signed a document indicating their willingness to collaborate with the state agencies.”
She said the women are Diego Martin, Port of Spain, San Juan, Couva, Claxton Bay, Rio Claro and Maloney, among other areas.
She said ISIS has collapsed, so any fear surrounding their returning home is misplaced.
In 2020, Al-Rawi proposed the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill. Infographics from his office said the bill provided “measures for imposing a temporary exclusion order which prohibits an individual from returning unless permitted by the Minister of National Security and subjected to stringent restrictions and conditions including detention at a designated facility.
“This bill addresses returnees and foreign terrorist fighters and provides definitions which distinguishes between the two terms.”
The Opposition did not support it, with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar saying it gave the attorney general too much power.
Mohammed told Newsday the bill was the “nastiest and most draconian piece of legislation that you could ever dream of, that would criminalise these women and children.
“All that the State has to do at this stage – there is an avenue that is available for dialogue to begin with our country and the administrative authorities at the camps.”