Where government stands on refugees in Syria

Former minister of national security Stuart Young. - Jeff K Mayers
Former minister of national security Stuart Young. - Jeff K Mayers

The government of TT has not specifically stated its stand on TT citizens in detainment camps in Syria.

However, by its lack of attempts to repatriate the women and children suffering in those camps, relatives wonder if the government intends to leave them there to die. Read wives, children in Syria here.

At first, there seemed to be hope as, between 2014 and 2016, two women and four children were repatriated by the State.

Then, in August 2018, former minister of national security Stuart Young, constituted a multidisciplinary and multiagency team to deal with the possible repatriation and reintegration of those citizens in Syria and Iraq.

This team, called the Nightingale Team, included members of the Financial Intelligence Unit; the Terrorist Interdiction Unit of the TT Police Service (TTPS); the Financial Investigation Branch, TTPS; the Child Protection Unit, TTPS; the Anti-Terrorism Desk of the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs; the Children’s Authority; the Counter Trafficking Unit of the Ministry of National Security; the Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism Compliance Unit, Ministry of National Security; and the Intelligence Services.

According to a government statement, “Upon the return of any minors or adult nationals from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) battlefronts the Nightingale Team and its various elements have different roles to play, including, assessing the best environment for minors who may have experienced the trauma, and ill effects, of being in, or around, war zones and battlefronts. It is expected that any such returnees will be assessed by the appropriate authorities upon their return.”

In that same month, amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act became law, making it illegal to leave TT to travel to other countries and engage in terrorist activities.

The law criminalised travel for the purpose of committing terrorist acts and labelled those who did as foreign terrorist fighters. It also redefined terrorism, broadening the scope to include actions taken outside of TT.

The law allowed for the national security minister to designate travel to a particular area as travel for a terrorist act and for provisions to address risks posed to children, including recruiting and taking them into conflict zones.

After ISIS fell in 2019 and calls by the US and relatives to repatriate those in camps began, Young said authorities were conducting verification and information gathering exercises on the refugees and that Team Nightingale would “ensure that the best decisions and actions are taken in the public’s interest.”

With no seeming progress being made, Tamjeed Ali and Saheed Mohammed took the State to court on behalf the women and children in the hopes that it would speed up the repatriation process.

Former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi. - Jeff K. Mayers

However, in April 2021, Justice Joan Charles dismissed a claim in the High Court. She said she did not have the jurisdiction to order the State to approve their repatriation, and that the process required action by the government. Read Trini refugees can be part of society again here.

In a release in response to the ruling, the Office of the Attorney General said repatriations from war or conflict zones involved national security issues as well as international collaborations with foreign immigration, intelligence agencies and diplomatic relations which were matters of state policy, and the government did not have diplomatic relationships with those who controlled the camps.

It added that the court’s decision affirmed the government’s "thrust in its determination to fight the ravages of the global pandemic whilst protecting the reputation of TT in the international intelligence community, as well as the resultant safety and security of its population."

Calls to former and current ministers of national security, Young and Fitzgerald Hinds, as well as former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi for clarification of the government’s policy and the status of Nightingale Team went unanswered.


"Where government stands on refugees in Syria"

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