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Thursday's papers: Finland's Isis families, Midsummer madness and traffic jams

Should the state help the Finnish families of Isis fighters stranded in Syria?

Al-Holin Isis-leiri
Family members of Isis fighters at the al-Hol camp in Syria. Image: Delil Souleiman / AFP

Main national daily Helsingin Sanomat (HS) tackles the issue of Finnish nationals stranded at the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria. The paper examines ways Finland could react to the Finnish families who joined the terrorist group Isis but are now stranded at the desert camp where temperatures are expected to rise above 40 degrees Celsius this week.

HS writes that conditions at al-Hol are like that of a prison camp, where nearly 20,000 family members of Isis fighters are being held by Syria’s autonomous Kurds. The camp is surrounded by armed guards. HS cites Yle, which has reported that there are 11 women and 33 children who are Finnish citizens in the camp.

There are also Finnish orphans in the camp, according to Tarja Mankkinen, head of development at the police division of the Ministry of the Interior. Some of the children had arrived from Finland, while others were born in Syria. Many of the camp's children are suffering from diarrhea and malnutrition.

While the previous government decided that Finnish authorities would not help Isis fighters or their spouses leave the country, this does not bind PM Antti Rinne's new government. The PM has received advice from 40 experts from various Finnish ministries, and the new government needs to decide whether to assist those stranded - or not.

The main responsibility for a decision lies with newly-minted Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto who did not respond to requests by HS for an interview. HS asked several experts, including an international law expert and a terrorism researcher about what should be done.

According to international law professor Martti Koskenniemi, the answer is clear. Government must help the women and children at the al-Hol camp return to Finland.

"Do Finland's officials understand that this situation is subject to domestic and international legal norms?" he queried in an interview with HS.

"Consular services are meant to aid those in crisis areas and return them to safety," he says. "What these people may have done should not affect whether or not they are helped. (What they have done) is a separate police matter,” Koskenniemi added.

Terrorism researcher Juha Saarinen told HS that security policy concerns need to be considered in discussions regarding the Finns in Syria. "We’re talking abut people who have been connected to a brutal and violent terrorist organisation."

"Middle-aged men are a problem"

Tabloid Ilta-Sanomat leads with a story about the upcoming Midsummer weekend.

IS writes that as the long weekend is set to be warm, it will likely keep safety and rescue services busy.

"Rescue workers and police are happy when summer and Midsummer are rainy," said Heidi Liukkonen of the Southern Savo rescue department.

A dry hot summer translates into a higher risk of forest fires, and more people in and on the water, which often means more accidents especially on hot days when alcohol is the beverage of choice. Drinking leads to more drink driving accidents and drowning fatalities.

According to Taisto Hakala, communications manager for the Helsinki Rescue Department, the top risk group on the water is middle-aged men.

"The problem group is middle-aged men. They drink, and then swim too far from the shore. Perhaps they're not very good swimmers or they don’t have safety equipment or, if they do, it doesn't work."

Midsummer exodus

On the topic of Midsummer, Tampere daily Aamulehti leads with a piece about the expected traffic chaos on Finland's roads as the exodus for cottages begins on Thursday and road congestion is expected to reach its peak midday Friday.

According to Aamulehti, there will be twice as many motorists than normal on the roads on Thursday and Friday, which is why it's a good idea to be prepared for potential delays.

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