Skip to content

Foreign Minister: Finland still trying to evacuate kids from al-Hol camp

Finland managed to repatriate two orphaned children from the Syrian refugee camp in December last year.

An estimated 20,000 people are said to be living at the camp in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria. Image: Otso Reunanen / Yle

Government is looking to restart a project to evacuate Finnish children from the al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday.

The novel coronavirus pandemic disrupted the process of bringing the children back from the camp earlier this year.

Haavisto told Yle's Radio 1 Ykkösaamu morning show that the government is looking to resume the repatriations and is closely following the situation at al-Hol.

The minister said that negotiations to evacuate the children have slowed down over plans by the informal local Kurdish regime to convict women at the camp for crimes committed there.

"We have been somewhat cautious about this because we are not sure which laws the trials would observe. We are still trying to evacuate Finnish children from the camp, but the Kurdish administration holds the view that they will proceed with this trial first," Haavisto explained.

"In waiting mode"

There are currently about 30 Finnish children and roughly a dozen Finnish women at the al-Hol refugee camp. Two orphans were brought to Finland from the camp in December last year. The government has said that it wants to evacuate the children as soon as possible.

Haavisto admitted on Monday that Finland cannot influence the views of local officials in the Kurdish-administered region. However he stressed that the government does not believe that a trial would bring any kind of resolution to the situation.

"We are in a bit of a waiting mode on our side," Haavisto added.

Minister in hot water over evacuations

Late last year the foreign minister faced a parliamentary probe over his handling of plans to evacuate the children from the Syrian camp. At the time senior ministry officials claimed that he had attempted to push through the repatriation plan while sidelining his head of consular affairs Pasi Tuominen in the process.

Haavisto was subsequently cleared by a parliamentary committee and won a confidence vote on the matter. The Chancellor of Justice also decided against a formal probe into the matter.

Yle will broadcast a documentary (in Finnish) about the Finnish women at the al-Hol camp as well as the views of their relatives and locals about the situation. The documentary will on Thursday evening at 10 pm on Yle TV1. It is already available on Yle Areena as part of the Ulkolinja series.