Black Immigrant Daily News
ATTORNEY Nafeesa Mohammed on Wednesday called for the return to Trinidad and Tobago of the wives and children of TT men who became ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, saying enough help now exists to reintegrate them into this society.
She was speaking during an online panel discussion hosted by the Institute of International Relations, UWI, St Augustine, and the International Parliament for Human Rights on the theme: Repatriation and Reintegration of Trinidad and Tobago Nationals in Syria: Challenges and Way Forward.
The event mulled the fate of women and children stuck in refugee camps in the Middle East, after most of the men leaving TT to join ISIS had ended up dead.
Mohammed said, “It is the duty of our Government to repatriate our citizens.” She said from 2013-2016 some 130 people left TT to join ISIS, with most of the men in that group having been killed since. She said 72 children (including 33 born in Syria) and 25 women were now seeking repatriation. Saying reintegration in TT would entail access to documents, medical care, social services and housing, all amid a respect for sexual and gender rights, Mohammed said state agencies and civil-society groups were available to assist. “These citizens are not terrorists. They are displaced citizens who need the love from all of us,” Mohammed said.
“Any attempt to render these citizens stateless will be in breach of international laws,” she added.
Mohammed said TT’s Muslim community had people who could help them settle, so as to dispel any fears of radicalisation.
At the panel discussion, Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch in New York recalled the son of one dead ISIS fighter saying, “My father lied to me. He told me we were going to Disneyland.” She said TT should repatriate families, under UN protocols.
Tayler said TT has had a proud history of upholding justice, as the second member of the International Criminal Court (ICC.) She argued that if any ISIS war criminals now languished in refugee camps in Syria, they would not be receiving judgment, but if repatriated, TT’s law courts could mete out justice to them, showing the world that war criminals will be held to account.
Tayler warned that the longer children were in camps, the more vulnerable they were, while conversely, those already repatriated were now doing remarkably well. She argued that some adults were victims of human trafficking or had made terrible decisions they then regretted.
Reheema Khan, representing the families of TT nationals now in Syria, said her sister and her nieces were stuck abroad, the former suffering severe mental illness and needing hip replacement surgery. She said such individuals had broken no TT law and likely no Syrian law, and it was unfair for them to be subjected to collective punishment. Khan claimed talk of legislation needed to facilitate repatriation only served to frustrate families.What data showed these citizens posed any security risk if repatriated, she asked? Khan said the sons of former TT ISIS fighters were now being imprisoned as adult men when they turned 12.”The longer they stay there, their suffering increases.”She said a reintegration and resettlement plan can be executed under a tripartite deal between caregiver, government and NGOs, in TT.
“The time is now. Let’s act now!”
Poonam Taneja, BBC reporter, said popular opinion in the UK towards wives of ISIS fighters was “overwhelmingly negative.” She said the UK public considered these women to have made their decision and now proverbially they must sleep on the bed they had made. “In the UK there isn’t a lot of public support for returnees.”