ASJA: Bring Trinis trapped in Syria back home

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

ASJA general secretary Rahimool Hosein, left, and ASJA presient Zainool Sarafat say prayers before the start of a press conference at ASJA’s head office in Charlieville on Monday. PHOTO BY ANGELO MARCELLE –

THE head of the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA) is pleading with government to explore all avenues to expedite the repatriation of Trinidadian women and children who have been languishing in a camp in Syria.

ASJA is also saying while it lacks resources to monitor and prevent anyone from committing offences after they are repatriated, it is willing to work with the government to have these nationals properly reintegrated into society.

These points were raised at a press conference at ASJA headquarters in Charlieville on Monday.

However, both ASJA president Zainool Sarafat and second president Shamshard Ali said if something goes wrong when it comes to threats to national security, ASJA should not be blamed.

“Our request is based solely on humanitarian grounds (not religious) and international reports of physical abuse at these camps, especially for the children who are innocent victims of this whole ordeal,” Sarafat said.

ASJA’s call for an expedited repatriation follows a report last week of the number of Trinidadian women and children facing abuse and hardship at the refugee camp since 2020.

In 2018, former national security minister Stuart Young over saw the setting up of the “Nightingale Team” to deal with possible repatriation and reintegration of nationals trapped in Syria.

ASJA members are offering to help government deal with any red tape with the repatriation process “without compromising the security of the State.”

Details of the recent report were revealed on February 28 at a media conference led by New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch (HRW).

According to HRW, 100 TT nationals are in camps in Syria, including 13 men (including a teenage boy), 21 women, and 56 children.

In response to the report findings, on March 1, Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said the government is “open to offers of collaboration” to return the families of local men who went to fight for ISIS in Syria.

ASJA officials said it was particularly concerned about the well-being of children and women who are at grave risk in the refugee camp and that the longer they stay in such an environment, the harder it could be to rehabilitate and reintegrate these citizens back into TT society.

ASJA has also written to the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs offering its support and renewing its call for a greater effort to have the TT nationals repatriated.