Family claims Guyanese student nurse tricked into moving to Syria stuck there; gov’t checking claims

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By Isanella Patoir

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The Guyana Government is investigating claims by an Essequibo family that a 29-year-old relative of theirs was tricked into moving to Syria and is now stuck there with her children.

Relatives say Rafena Kumar, who is now a mother to two young children, aged 3 and 5, has been in Syria for the past five years and her efforts to return to Guyana have proved futile.

When contacted on Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Todd told the News Room that the government here is now investigating the authenticity of the case before they can move forward.

“We are looking into the matter; we are trying to get some information concerning her situation…,” Minister Todd stated.

He could not confirm that the woman is actually a Guyanese national.

“We have not seen anything that can validate (her nationality) but we are trying to get some details,” he stated.

The Foreign Minister explained that given Kumar’s current location, verifying the case will take some time.

“It is going to be a very careful process, [because] we will have to go through the details of it [because] I understand she left in 2015 so we would have to go back and get as much information as possible,” Minister Todd told the News Room.

Rafena Kumar at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport before she left Guyana in 2015

Kumar reportedly left Guyana for Syria to work as a nurse aid in 2015, four years after the start of the ongoing civil war that has left hundreds of thousands of persons dead and millions more displaced.

Subrena Mohammed, who identified herself as Kumar’s sister, told the News Room that she (Kumar) had joined an organisation purporting to be a Syrian NGO carrying out humanitarian work.

Kumar was said to have been a student nurse when she left Guyana. According to Mohammed, it was the death of her father during a surgery that prompted Kumar to leave.

“She decided that she wanted to help people as much as she could and that’s how she ended up with the aid organisation,” Mohammed stated.

According to Mohammed, soon after arriving in Syria, Kumar realised that she had made a huge mistake. The man who contacted her on Facebook and encouraged her to join the organisation was not who he claimed to be.

Mohammed said Kumar tried to leave and was tricked into thinking she was being smuggled out of the country. Instead, she was taken to a village that soon came under the control of ISIS.

According to Mohammed, her sister had to surrender to the American-backed Kurdish forces. The Kurds have been capturing areas from Syrian rebel forces who are also fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

Kumar is now safe at a repatriation camp, according to her sister.

“While she was waiting in the camp for repatriation to go back home, the (Kurds) were in charge of the camp and they said the government need to request for her to come home.

“It has been very inhumane, like they don’t have nothing to really eat or drink.

“There is no education, no health facilities, no nothing,” Mohammed said.

While moving from different camps, Kumar is said to have lost her passport and her important documents.

“There is no way for us to send like money for her to collect and book a ticket.

“…the Guyana government have to probably request, you know, like send travel documents and passport.”

According to Mohammed, the family has written the Guyana Government seeking help numerous times but nothing was ever done.

With barely any contact with Kumar, her family here is hoping that one day she can return home safely.

“Within that three years, sometimes we wouldn’t hear from her in weeks and sometimes we wouldn’t hear from her in months.

“It has been very, very difficult because sometimes we don’t know if she is okay, if the kids (are) okay or if they are getting to eat.”

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