The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs on Sunday said three Finnish families who had been interned at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria had arrived in Finland on Sunday afternoon after escaping earlier this spring. The families include children under the age of ten.
The families received travel documents at Finland’s embassy in Ankara and their return was arranged in cooperation with Turkish officials. Turkey’s Interior Ministry confirmed to Yle that 12 Finnish nationals were flown out of Turkey to Finland on Sunday.
Several Finnish children and mothers are still living in the camp, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday, adding that repatriation efforts had not progressed during the coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of Christmas last year, Finland arranged for the evacuation of two orphans from the camp.
The ministry stated on Sunday that Finland had a constitutional obligation to repatriate children from the camp to the extent that it was possible.
Some 20,000 adults and 50,000 children live in the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria which is now a Kurdish-administered region. More than 500 people died at the camp last year, according to the Kurdish Red Crescent, a humanitarian group.
Minister in hot water over evacuations
The issue of repatriating Finns from the camp has become politicised in Finland.
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.
Daily Helsingin Sanomat was the first to report the news.