PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, (CMC) – Over 90 nationals of Trinidad and Tobago, including at least 56 children, are unlawfully detained in life-threatening conditions as Islamic State (ISIS), a human rights group said Tuesday.
Accusing the Trinidad and Tobago government of taking almost no action to help the detainees return to the country, the international NGO Human Rights Watch urged the Dr Keith Rowley-led administration to bring home its nationals for rehabilitation, reintegration, and prosecutions of adults as appropriate.
“Trinidad and Tobago is turning its back on its nationals unlawfully held in horrific conditions in northeast Syria,” said Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government should bring home its citizens, help those who are victims of ISIS rebuild their lives, and fairly prosecute any adults linked to serious crimes,” she added.
The report indicated that approximately 90 to 100 Trinidad and Tobago nationals are detained in northeast Syria by US-backed, Kurdish-led regional forces, according to family members and advocates.
They include an estimated 21 women, at least one of them a grandmother, and at least 56 children in Roj and al-Hol, two locked camps for families with alleged ISIS links.
Forty-four of the children in the camps are age 12 or younger and 15 are under age six, family members said. At least 33 children were born in Syria including one child, born in al-Hol, who is only three.
In addition, at least 13 Trinidadian males, including at least one teenage boy, are held in other detention centres. At least six of the older boys and men – the teenager, 17, and five men ages 18 to 20 – were taken to Syria by family members when they were children.
At least 36 countries have repatriated some or many of their nationals from northeast Syria. Repatriations have increased since October 2022, with at least 10 countries, including Barbados and the United States, bringing back some or many of their nationals.
Many repatriated children are successfully reintegrating in their home countries, Human Rights Watch research has found.
Yet, the NGO said, authorities in Trinidad and Tobago have not taken steps to bring home their nationals detained in northeast Syria for investigation and, if warranted, prosecution, citing security concerns.
“It is only known to have allowed the returns of eight nationals – a woman with two children, another woman and two teenage girls, and two young boys – and none since 2019. Most made it out of Syria without the government’s help,” the NGO said.
“Human Rights Watch wrote to the minister of national security on December 21, 2022 requesting details on Trinidad and Tobago’s policies and practices regarding the repatriation of its nationals from northeast Syria, but despite repeated requests, had not received the requested information as of February 15, 2023,” Human Rights Watch added.