Representatives of Muslim families with relatives in Middle East refugee camps, who are trying to return to this country, say they are concerned about a planned amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which focuses on such returnees in particular children.
Attorney Criston Williams representing some families expressed concern on their behalf in a letter to Prime Minister Keith Rowley on Tuesday.
The amendments arose following last year’s lobby with Government by Muslims of TT group (MOTT) to repatriate their relatives from refugee camps such as Syria’s Al Hol. They have lobbied for 60 plus people—mainly women and children—who have been there since the Islamic State terrorist group crumbled in 2018. In 2017, the Government confirmed 130 people left T&T between 2012 and 2015 to go to war zones, joining Isis.
But the 22-clause amendment concerning returnees—which Government sources said seeks to protect “everyone”—has worried families.
Williams, in his letter to the prime minister stated, “The proposed initial draft amendment(s) is evidence of the paucity knowledge of the persons making the final decisions that shall result in a legal and National Security headache for our nation.”
Among proposed amendments he cited is the introduction of a control order to restrict an individual’s liberty for the purpose of protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism.
Williams said the proposals implied Government intends applying special measures to returnees—including children—who’ have gone to places of terrorist activity and engaged in this.
Some other proposals were for returnees to report to specified police stations at specific times and for the detention of persons for two years—whether deported or subject to Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO)—subject to review every six months.
The attorney said this indicated detention of returnee children.
“It is inconsistent with law for it doesn’t consider someone being deported from another country for overstaying as they too will be subject to the same detention.”
“It cannot achieve the overarching objective of the prevention of terrorism. It creates a West Indian Guantanamo Bay detention camp for children which will damage the economy. This position I posit shall not abode well for your legacy in TT nor our International reputation,” his letter stated.
“It’s unheard of to apply such measures to children for good reason. Most European countries opt to return unaccompanied minors and orphans. There’s general acceptance children are innocent victims in the conflict. Most were below the age of criminal responsibility on the departure to the conflict zone. None had a choice. In cases where the child is born in the conflict zone, it’s obtuse to suggest this young person could fit the qualifying criteria for a Temporary Exclusion Order.”
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday responded saying, “This legislation is still under review based on the feedback received from stakeholders and has not yet been finalised. It is to be noted therefore that Mr Williams’ observations are premature and it is most unfortunate that he did not officially write to my Office to indicate his concerns.”
He said there had been wide stakeholder consultation on the matter with the ministry receiving feedback from over 20 entities inclusive of Muslims groups as well as 24 religious and non-profit organisations.
Opposition Chief Whip David Lee did not answer calls on whether or the opposition would support the amendment.