“Answers please, Minister Young!”
The locally-based relatives of several women and children who are in Syria’s Al Hol refugee camp have warned National Security Minister Stuart Young of possible legal action due to his inaction on their calls to repatriate the women and children.
Young has been given seven days to reply or face legal proceedings.
Attorney Criston Williams, representing the families, wrote Young on Tuesday. Williams said attempts were previously made by the families to get some assistance from Young.
“It has now been approximately one year and seven months and you have failed to embolden your decision to our clients,” Williams stated.
It’s the latest challenge to hit the PNM Government before the August 10 general election.
Unions and groups have also been lobbying for payments and finalisation of their issues, as the election approaches.
Williams wrote Young on behalf of two families—Tamjeed Ali of Don Miguel Road, and Saheed and Shanaz Mohammed of Cunupia.
They said their family members have been stranded in Al-Hol Refugee Camp in Syria under cruel, inhumane, and unsanitary conditions.
The camp has housed thousands since the fall of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2018/19.
In 2017 the government confirmed 130 nationals, including fighters and families, went to overseas conflict zones.
Ali is the father-in-law of Faranah Khan, who is detained at Al Hol in Northern Syria. With her are three children, Abdurrahmaan, 11, Aburrazaack, 6, and Maryam, 2, who was born in Syria.
The Mohammeds are the father-in-law and mother-in-law of Afeesha Mohammed, who is detained with seven children.
Afeesha is the mother of five of the children (three T&T nationals) and two others born in Syria in 2015 and 2017.
She is also described as an aunt to two orphaned children born in Syria in the last four years who are currently in her car.
Williams’ letter stated, “Our clients are directly aggrieved by the failure of a decision by your good self to have members of their families repatriated to their native country T&T or, alternatively, a decision on your part to refuse to permit the said family members to be repatriated.”
He said the women and children form part of a vulnerable group.
“This is a matter that requires us to comply with our international instruments.”
Williams said his clients made several attempts for the repatriation of their family members in the last year.
They wrote repeatedly to the President, Foreign Affairs Minister, Young, the Prime Minister, Attorney General and US Ambassador Joseph Mondello.
They cited deplorable conditions the women and children were living under including winter conditions, illness—including the COVID-19 threat—increasing numbers of people, poor health conditions, little medical care and risk of death due to the ongoing war between Turkey and Kurdish authorities.
Williams noted many countries which have repatriated their citizens.
He said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is willing to assist the repatriation of the women and children if a request is made of them by Government.
“This indication was made by the ICRC to family members and also to the government representatives in the various meetings held with them.”
But he said Young hasn’t made a decision to address his clients’ request to repatriate the women and children.
“This is despite the numerous attempts as evidenced by the written correspondence and in person meeting with Ms Camille Rennie in/around September 2019 on behalf of their family members.”
“We have advised our clients your actions as the Honourable Minister in delaying to make a decision on the issue, appear to be contrary to Section 15 (1) of the Judicial Review Act.”
Williams reserved the right to add any interested party who may/may not be a family member or relative of a person(s) similarly affected and detained in Al Hol Camp and who wish to be repatriated.
No response from Minister
Young didn’t respond to Guardian Media’s queries sent on what headway has been made by Team Nightingale on the T&T nationals in the Iraq refugee camp, whether they were verified as nationals, what arrangements are being made for them, if they’d be returned and if so how many, when and how many of the women and children might be involved.
On how a UNC Government might regard the issue, UNC’s Rodney Charles (UNC’s Foreign Affairs point man) said, “UNC has a non negotiable position that it is a Government ‘s responsibility to attend to its citizens in distress outside of T&T—and in this case especially regarding families of citizens who went to Iraq and Syria and once they’re T&T citizens. One must respond and seek their best interest. But it seems the PNM doesn’t recognise their responsibility.“