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New Children's Ombudsman in favour of repatriating children of Finnish Isis fighters

Elina Pekkarinen says the offspring of Islamic State members are just as entitled to protection as any other Finnish child.

Isis-taistelijaksi epäillyn miehen vaimo käveli maaliskuussa poikansa kanssa Rojin pakolaisleirillä Koillis-Syyriassa.
The wife of a suspected Isis fighter walks with her son in Syria's Roj refugee camp in March. Image: AHMED MARDNLI / EPA

Finland's new Ombudsman for Children, Elina Pekkarinen, says Finland should make arrangements for children of Finnish citizens who have left the country to fight for Islamic State (Isis) to be brought back to Finland to safety, according to a report from the news agency Uutissuomalainen.

The report says Pekkarinen even supports bringing the children back by force, if necessary.

"The way I see it, these children have the same rights to special protections as any other Finnish child. We have to assess whether the parents agree to the children's transfer, and if not, we have to consider involuntary measures," Pekkarinen told Uutissuomalainen.

Pekkarinen bases her stance on the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the undersigned parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's background. The agreement also protects children from discrimination or punishment stemming from the opinions or beliefs of the child's parents.

"Forsaking a child in a foreign country with a parent who neglects their care responsibilities is in violation of this agreement," she says.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also emphasised children's right to protection in situations in which a child is in a foreign country without a legal guardian.

Nordics in agreement on not assisting voluntary fighter returns

More than 80 people, including 30 children, have travelled from Finland to conflict areas in Syria and Iraq, according to the Finnish Security Intelligence Service Supo. In February, Finland's Interior Minister Kaj Mykkänen declared that Finland would not strip Finnish citizenship from Isis fighters.

The interior ministers of the Nordic countries have however agreed to not assist Islamic State combatants who wish to voluntarily return to their home countries. The fate of the fighters' children has not been decided on a Nordic level.

"As reprehensible as these peoples’ actions were, there were also children born in these areas who did not choose their fate. We must be very careful about how we treat their situations," Mykkänen observed in February.

According to The Local, around 300 people left Sweden to join terror groups in Syria and Iraq since 2012. Roughly half of them are believed to have returned to Sweden, while around 50 are thought to have been killed. Another 100 or so remain in the region. Only one of the 150 IS supporters who returned to Sweden has been prosecuted and no one has been convicted of a crime.

Norway, on the other hand, criminalised co-operation with terrorist organizations in 2013, and many returning jihadists have been investigated and prosecuted, The Local writes.

On April 12, the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said the Swedish government is "working intensively" to get children with a Swedish connection in Syria the help they need, and "if possible, they will be brought to Sweden".

The Guardian reported in early March that France was the only country to date that had shown an interest in repatriating Isis children with at least one French parent.

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