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Finland repatriates mother and two children from al-Hol camp

The group left the camp on Wednesday and arrived in Finland on Friday. 

Naisia ja lapsi Al-Holin leirillä.
The al-Hol camp in Syria houses tens of thousands of people who were resident in ISIS-held areas in 2019. Image: Otso Reunanen / Yle

Finnish authorities have confirmed the repatriation of a woman and her two young children from the al-Hol camp in Syria, which mostly houses people who were living in the ISIS caliphate when it collapsed and are now detained by local Kurdish authorities.

The group was handed over by Kurdish authorities in Qamishli on Wednesday to Jussi Tanner, a special envoy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with responsibility for Finns at al-Hol.

The woman and her pre-school age children had been held at al-Hol since last year, when they were transferred from another camp at Roj.

The family is now in the hands of Finnish authorities. According to Tanner, they seem to be in reasonable condition but the authorities will continue to assess them.

"Two and a half years in a prison camp will definitely have left a mark," said Tanner.

Foreign women and children who had been living in the ISIS-controlled areas of Syria were gathered in camps in northern Syria under the control of Kurdish forces when ISIS was defeated in early 2019.

According to Tanner, the woman repatriated on Friday does not have a Finnish partner.

"The mother's possible crimes will be investigated and the children's conditions safeguarded," said Tanner.

Nearly a year's work

The repatriation was planned in autumn 2020, but local authorities' policy has been that only orphans could be released unless there were special humanitarian reasons for an individual to be returned to their country of origin.

That policy changed in June.

At the same time many western countries have been reöuctant to repatriate their citizens who left to join ISIS. Finland has repatriated six women and twenty children from Syria, out of a total of 11 Finnish women and thirty children.

"Around two-thirds of the Finns have been repatriated, in all," said Tanner. "There are around ten children and a few women left."

The majority of those still in the region are at al-Hol, but information has been harder to come by and the location of some of the Finns is not known all the time, according to Tanner.

According to Tanner every adult is subject to an individual security assessment. Tanner declined to say whether all the adults left in the camp had declared they want to leave.

"The goal is to repatriate all the Finns as soon as possible," said Tanner.

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