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Relatives seek repatriation of Finnish orphans at Al-Hol refugee camp

Finland must do all it can to ensure that the children's rights are guaranteed, says the Ombudsman for Children.

Al-Hol, Syyria
Some 11,000 foreign women and children are being held at the camp, most of them family members of Isis fighters. This picture does not show Finnish children. Image: Antti Kuronen / Yle

Two children whose Finnish mother has died are being cared for by another Finnish woman at the Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, Yle has learned. The mother was apparently killed in Isis-controlled territory about two years ago.

The children, who are of school age, were born in Syria. Relatives in Finland have urged officials to bring them here. Any child born to a Finnish mother automatically gains Finnish citizenship.

An Yle reporter who visited the camp learned that they are being cared for by another Finnish woman, but are living in squalid conditions. Temperatures have hovered around 40 degrees Celsius this summer, with diseases rampant.

Yle has confirmed the information with the children's relatives in Finland. Family members say they have maintained contact with the youngsters via other Finnish women at the camp, and have sought their repatriation.

PM promised quick decision in June

There are about 10 Finnish women at the camp, with around 30 children. So far Finland has not brought anyone out of the camp.

In June the Interior Ministry told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that there were orphans of Finnish parents at the camp.

At that point Prime Minister Antti Rinne told the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat that a decision on possibly fetching the orphans from the camp would be made as soon as possible. Sweden, Norway, France, the Netherlands and other countries have repatriated orphans from Syria. Rinne also met with relatives of Finnish occupants of the camp in July.

The older child's parents, both Finns, have apparently both died. The younger child had a different father, whose fate is unclear. According to some reports he too has died, while others say he is being held prisoner by Kurdish forces in Syria.

Ombudsman: Same rights as any children

Elina Pekkarinen, the Ombudsman for Children in Finland, says it is clear that the fundamental rights of children are in no way guaranteed at the camp.

She points that Finland is obliged by law and treaties to do all it can to protect the rights of Finnish children anywhere in the world. Usually this is handled through the Finnish Foreign Ministry.

"Some countries have been able to bring children out of the camp. This will require international cooperation," she says.

Most likely the children have not been registered in Finland and do not have a legal guardian, she notes.

The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) meanwhile sees the women at the camp as security risks.

Pekkarinen says that children must not face discrimination based on their parents' actions or ideology, or any other reasons. They have the same rights as any other children.

"These children have not chosen their fate," she says. "They did not play a role in their parents' decisions."

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