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President Niinistö urges gov't to make decision on al-Hol Finns

President Sauli Niinistö expects the government to make a clear decision about Finns in the al-Hol camp in Syria.

Tasavallan presidentti Sauli Niinistö vastasi kysymyksiin ja keskusteli kuuntelijoiden kanssa Yle Radio 1:ssä 14. joulukuuta.
President Sauli Niinistö answered listeners questions on Radio 1. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

President Sauli Niinistö says the government needs to make a decision to clear up confusion over Finland's stance on Finnish citizens currently at the al-Hol camp in Syria. The government has not yet decided whether to repatriate all the Finns in the camp, which houses people who had lived under ISIS rule.

Finns in the camp have been a hot button issue since the fall of the Isis-controlled territory in Syria, with media reports on their fate heightening public debate.

Speaking on Yle’s Radio 1 during a listener’s question hour programme, Niinistö said he hoped there would soon be clarity on the matter.

"It looks like there have been very different opinions," said Niinistö, who emphasised that the decision should be made considering both humanitarian issues and security.

Media uproar

"The available information has been contradictory and than has definitely confused the public debate. And even I haven’t received clear information on what has happened in all this. It is extremely important that the government gathers its thoughts. On Monday I’m sure we’ll all know the government’s line."

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has been criticised for his actions in the saga, as the ministry prepared plans for different scenarios including the repatriation of all Finnish citizens there.

Those plans were later leaked, prompting a media uproar.

Opposition parties have suggested that adults in the camp should not be brought to Finland, as has the Centre Party--which is in government and holds the Finance Minister portfolio.

This week Centre leader Katri Kulmuni was forced to delete an Instagram poll asking her followers whether ‘just children’ or ‘children and mothers’ should be repatriated from al-Hol.

Kaikkonen: 'At least the children' should be helped

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen, a member of Kulmuni's Centre Party, also weighed in on the issue on Saturday. Speaking on Yle TV1's Ykkösaamu programme, Kaikkonen said that 'at least the children' should be helped.

"I personally, and I think many other Finns, find it difficult to understand why a person would leave for those kind of conditions, to join a terror group," said Kaikkonen.

"And if they leave, is it Finland's responsibility to go fetch them spending taxpayers money?"

The Uusimaa MP did state clearly that he would like to help the children in the camp.

"According to my information more than half the children are aged under five," said Kaikkonen. "They are of course completely innocent. My heart says that at least we should be able to help them."

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