AP

Activists call on Trinidad to repatriate citizens in Syria

Feb 27, 2023, 4:44 PM | Updated: Feb 28, 2023, 6:46 am

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Trinidad & Tobago to repatriate more than 90 of its citizens who have been detained as Islamic State suspects and family members in war-torn Syria, noting that at least 56 of them are children.

Some of them were whisked to Syria as children by relatives, while others said they erroneously thought they were going to visit a Muslim utopia.

“These children never chose to live under ISIS, yet they are suffering because of their parents’ decisions,” said Jo Becker, the Human Rights Watch child advocacy director.

Most of the Trinidadians were detained in late 2018 and early 2019 by U.S.-backed Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State group in northeast Syria and are currently held in makeshift camps that activists say are dangerous and lack food, water, medical care and education.

Of the more than 90 Trinidadians detained in Syria, some 21 are women, and 44 of the at least 56 children detained are 12 years old or younger, according to the human rights organization, which said it interviewed six Trinidadians held in camps.

Among them is a 17-year-old boy whose father took him to Syria in 2014.

“My father lied to me. He told me that we were going to Disneyland,” the organization quoted the boy as saying. “It’s not my fault. It’s my father’s fault. …. I just want to come back home.”

A 19-year-old Trinidadian man said: “My dad told me I was going to go to a hotel in Egypt and swim in a pool. I was 11 years old,” according to the organization.

Trinidad & Tobago has repatriated only a handful of its citizens in recent years despite at least 130 of them traveling to ISIS-held territories from 2013 to 2016, the most people per capita of any country in the Western Hemisphere, according to Human Rights Watch.

Many of them came from three communities in Trinidad: Rio Claro, Chaguanas and Diego Martin. One of them was even featured as a fighter in an ISIS online magazine.

Links to terrorism are not rare for the twin-island nation, which was the site of the only Islamic revolt in the Western Hemisphere when a radical group launched a violent coup attempt in 1990. Some of the veterans of that coup have since helped to radicalize families, which in turn have radicalized communities, according to experts.

With no courts available in northeast Syria to prosecute suspected foreign ISIS members, Human Rights Watch argued that authorities in Trinidad could prosecute citizens once they’re repatriated, noting that a 2005 anti-terrorism act gives officials jurisdiction over those offenses even if they’re committed abroad.

The office of Trinidad’s prime minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2018, the government created a committee to repatriate and reintegrate Trinidadians from conflict areas, but officials are still working on draft policy and legislation.

At least 10 countries including neighboring Barbados have repatriated some of their citizens since October last year, according to Human Rights Watch.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Photo: A delegate wears a hat with pins during the Republican National Convention Monday, July 15, ...

Christine Fernando, Steve People and Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Rep. Walsh speaks for Washington as cheering GOP delegates nominate Trump for president

Cheering GOP delegates formally nominated Donald Trump for president at Monday's Republican National Convention kickoff.

15 hours ago

Photo: Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former Presi...

Jill Colvin, Julie Carr Smyth, Steve Peoples and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Trump picks Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, a once-fierce critic turned loyal ally, as his GOP running mate

Donald Trump named Sen. JD Vance of Ohio as his running mate, choosing a onetime critic who became a loyal ally.

19 hours ago

trump assassination...

Ayanna Alexander, The Associated Press

What to know about Trump assassination attempt and the investigation into the shooting

Authorities want to know how a shooter was able to get on top of a roof so close to where former President Donald Trump was speaking and open fire.

24 hours ago

Photo: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret...

Julie Carr Smyth, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Michelle L. Price, The Associated Press

Trump heads to convention as authorities investigate motive, security in assassination attempt

Trump called for unity and resilience after an attempt on his life added fresh uncertainty to an already tumultuous presidential campaign.

2 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday,...

Will Weissert and Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

In primetime address, Biden says country must not go down road of political violence

President Joe Biden says “we can’t, we must not go down” the road of political violence in America after the attempted Trump assassination.

2 days ago

Photo: President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference following the NATO Summit in Washington, Thu...

Zeke Miller, Seung Min Kim, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Biden says during news conference he’s going to ‘complete the job’ despite calls to bow out

Biden used his highly anticipated news conference to deliver a defense of his policies and batted away questions about his ability to serve.

5 days ago

Activists call on Trinidad to repatriate citizens in Syria