Repatriation and reintegration of T&T nationals held in refugee & detention camps in Syria and Iraq
In August 2018, Minister of National Security the Honourable Stuart R. Young, M.P. constituted a multidisciplinary and multiagency team reporting to him to deal with possible repatriation and reintegration of citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who have been held in refugee and detention camps in Syria and Iraq. This team was dubbed the “Nightingale Team”, reporting to Minister Young.
The composition of the Nightingale Team includes, the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU); the Terrorist Interdiction Unit, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS); the Financial Investigation Branch, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS); the Child Protection Unit, Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS); the Anti-Terrorism Desk, Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs (AGLA); the Children’s Authority; the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU), Ministry of National Security; the Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Compliance Unit, Ministry of National Security; and the Intelligence Services.
The first meeting of the Nightingale Team was on August 14, 2018 and thereafter, weekly and then forth-nightly meetings were held.
One of the first matters that attracted the attention of the Nightingale Team was the matter of two minors, Ayyub Abdul Qadir Ferreira and Mahmud Abdul Wahid Ferreira, two male children who the International Red Cross advised were nationals of Trinidad and Tobago being held at the Roj refugee camp in Syria.
The Team immediately began a complex and detailed investigation and verification exercise to ascertain the facts surrounding these young boys. When the Team contacted the mother of these boys and informed her that it was possible that they were being held at a refugee camp in Syria, it is noteworthy that her response was not an enthusiastic one and there was no record of her reporting that the children had been abducted by their father and taken to Syria (or even out of Trinidad and Tobago).
The verification and investigation process is a complex one which was paralleled with developing a process and procedure for repatriation and reintegration which would include assessing the status of returning nationals. During this process, which by its very nature is a confidential and multifaceted one, balancing public interest and national security concerns, there has been an understandable amount of media interest generated. However very little could be shared and made public due to the sensitive nature of the matter and the investigations and preparations for possible repatriation.
Upon the return of any minors or adult nationals from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) battlefronts the Nightingale Team and its various elements have different roles to play, including, assessing the best environment for minors who may have experienced the trauma, and ill effects, of being in, or around, war zones and battlefronts. It is expected that any such returnees will be assessed by the appropriate authorities upon their return.
Team Nightingale will continue to do its work mindful of the need to protect the public and our nationals. Providing information when appropriate to do so.