19:55 GMT17 January 2021
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    The Finnish authorities see it as the country's constitutional obligation to repatriate children from the al-Hol camp in northern Syria, where around 20 Finnish children and fewer than ten mothers still linger.

    A group of twelve Finns previously interned at the al-Hol camp in northern Syria, where people from the self-proclaimed Daesh* “caliphate”, mostly women and children are held, have arrived in Finland, national broadcaster Yle reported.

    Finland's Foreign Ministry confirmed that the three families (three women and nine children) managed to escape from the camp and were flown to Finland from Turkey. All the children are under ten years old. All of the individuals were granted travel documents by the Finnish Embassy in Ankara, and their return journey was arranged in cooperation with the Turkish authorities.

    The circumstances of their escape are so far unknown. The Foreign Ministry specifically advised its citizens from attempting to leave it on their own initiative.

    “If you take into account the circumstances, they are doing well, at least physically”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Pekka Puustinen said.

    The Foreign Ministry is reportedly unaware of other Finnish families, besides these three, who have left the camp.

    The Finnish authorities are yet to provide detailed information on what will happen to the women and children. The government is responsible for questions about child protection, health investigations, quarantine arrangements, and possible criminal investigations, the Foreign Ministry said.

    According to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the authorities are ready to initiate de-radicalisation procedures for the Finnish Daesh families. In previous interviews with national broadcaster Yle, the Finnish Daesh brides claimed to be mere housewives, who lived a normal life and did not commit any atrocities. Some even claimed that they had been trying to leave the area for a long time.

    The Foreign Ministry pointed out that all Finnish citizens have the right to return to Finland if they wish to do so, stressing that the nation's embassies will provide them with the necessary documents. The ministry stated that Finland has a constitutional obligation to repatriate children from the camp to the extent that it is possible, and that the work is continuing.

    Finland arranged for the evacuation of the first two orphans from the camp ahead of Christmas last year, triggering a national debate. In total, about 30 Finnish children and a dozen mothers have been interned at al-Hol. According to the Foreign Ministry, there are still around 20 Finnish children and fewer than ten mothers left in the camp. These cannot be taken home at the current moment, because the local authorities have interrupted all international cooperation due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    Late last year, a controversy surrounding the fate of Daesh families erupted, as Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto faced a parliamentary probe over his handling of evacuation plans by allegedly sidelining his head of consular affairs in the process. Haavisto was subsequently cleared by a parliamentary committee and won a confidence vote on the matter.

    Meanwhile, the issue of returning the Daesh women and children remains a fraught one. In neighbouring Norway, the decision to repatriate a Daesh widow sparked a government crisis, prompting the national-conservtive Progress Party to leave the government coalition in the process.

    * Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/"Islamic State") is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and others


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