Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. –
Independent senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh says he is unconcerned about the Prime Minister’s criticism of his opinion piece in the Guardian on Friday which referred to government’s efforts to bring home citizens from the Middle East.
Deyalsingh said his reference in the article to the “hurried move” was not about the government making moves to repatriate TT nationals from the Middle East, but the announcement that opposition politician Nizam Mohammed had been enlisted to assist with the matter.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Dr Rowley said Deyalsingh had been easily manipulated and had “fallen hook, line and sinker” for the rhetoric of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar about the repatriation of TT nationals held at detention camps and jails in Syria and Iraq.
In the article, Deyalsingh said, “This hurried move might be viewed as an attempt to nullify the announcement of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who, one day before, said she would repatriate these persons once she came to power.”
Persad-Bissessar was speaking at an Iftar gathering at the Chaguanas Regional Corporation on March 25 when she said her next government would bring the TT nationals in Syria and Iraq home.
“These are our citizens and we must bring them home. These are women and children and they should not be left to suffer in unliveable conditions,” she said then.
Then on March 27, Rowley, as Head of the National Security Council, held a two-hour meeting with Mohammed, a former Speaker of the House, as well as Kwesi Atiba and diplomat Patrick Edwards at Whitehall. The meeting was to discuss nationals “stranded in countries deemed conflict zones.” The men had been in ongoing discussions with the Muslim community about the matter. They had been appointed to a three-man committee to oversee the process.
In his post Rowley said, “So you (Deyalsingh) really give thought to the possibility that she (Persad-Bissessar) made this announcement and the government, within hours, moved ‘hurriedly’ to find three persons of the calibre of former Speaker Nizam Mohammed, former Amir Kwesi Atiba and a qualified and willing experienced diplomat former ambassador Patrick Edwards, to function as a committee appointed by the state’s National Security Council as a contact and advisory group to assist with this very delicate matter?”
independent senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh –
He said the committee had been at work, meeting with the affected families, the leadership of the Muslim community, and had been in contact with local representatives of Türkiye and Syria. The meeting on March 27 was for the committee to report on its progress.
He claimed the news of a meeting was what prompted “the Opposition’s attempt at seeking relevance by making a statement and naming their own eunuch committee.”
Speaking to Sunday Newsday, Deyalsingh said the point of the article was to stimulate discussion. He pointed out that, near the end of the article, he noted the government had appointed a multi-disciplinary team to deal with the repatriation of “ISIS supporters” since 2018. Therefore, the government had obviously been working on the matter.
“If the Opposition leader has a former deputy political leader from the PNM, Nafeesa Mohammed, on her side, it is good political optics for the Prime Minister to now have somebody who was a Speaker under the opposition and an opposition politician.”
He said the questions were: Who was galvanized into action? The Opposition Leader because of the PM’s meeting? Or the PM to name his team to neutralise the Opposition Leader when she put the matter out into the public domain?
“The fact is, we get that announcement so the dialogue has now been started. The political optics will speak for itself but, will we really get some sort of action on this matter to put an end to it?”
Deyalsingh added that he believed it was unfair those in Syria and Iraq, about 100 people who were mostly women and children, would be repatriated at the expense of the taxpayers.
“I empathise with the families but I think it is unfair that the taxpayers have to pay for individuals who went to ISIS of their own volition for whatever their reasons, and now the state has to pay for that.
“I think the same human right watch group who has been trying to pressure the government to do something, and the same relatives who were asking the government to do something, they are the ones who should take the initiative to raise funds and fund their return.”
He said he would prefer taxpayer money be spent on those who had to go abroad for medical treatment.