Canada repatriating 14 citizens from detention camps in Syria

Government says it is bringing four women and 10 children home amid reports of deteriorating conditions in the camps.

A woman and a child stand under a tent in a Syrian detention camp
A woman and a child stand in Al-Roj detention camp in northeast Syria, where people with alleged affiliations with ISIL (ISIS) remain detained [File: Baderkhan Ahmad/AP Photo]

The Canadian government has said that it is in the process of repatriating more than a dozen citizens from detention camps in northeast Syria.

In a statement on Thursday, the foreign affairs department said 10 children and four women would be returned to the country, after being held in a Syrian camp for foreigners accused of being affiliated with ISIL (ISIS).

“Amidst reports of deteriorating conditions in the camps in northeastern Syria, we have been particularly concerned about the health and wellbeing of Canadian children,” Global Affairs Canada said.

“Canada remains steadfast in its commitment in the fight against Daesh [ISIL] and global terrorism while vigorously defending human rights both domestically and abroad.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously faced criticism for moving slowly to repatriate Canadians held in the Syrian camps, known for poor conditions.

Canadian media outlet CTV News reported that the 14 citizens had been released from Al-Roj detention camp, flown to Germany on a United States military plane, and put onto flights bound for Canada on Thursday.

However, CTV reported that the number was lower than anticipated. In January, the Canadian government agreed to work on securing the release of 19 citizens — six women and 13 children — at the request of their families.

It then increased that number to 23, after a federal court ruled that four men must also be returned to Canada.

The 14 people repatriated on Thursday were among those identified in the initial agreement.

But more Canadians remain stuck in Syrian camps. CTV reported that a 38-year-old woman from Quebec is still in detention with her six children. She was not part of the January case.

A Canadian immigration lawyer told the news outlet that children in the camps face risks such as malnutrition.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 42,400 foreign adults and children accused of being affiliation with ISIL have been held in camps in Syria since the group was territorially defeated in 2019.

On Thursday, the US State Department said it supported and “appreciates” Canada’s repatriation of 14 citizens.

In a statement, it said “resolving the humanitarian and security challenges that followed the dismantlement of ISIS’s so-called ‘caliphate’ is a key priority” of the United States and its allies.

Repatriation, the State Department added, is the “only durable solution” for people who remain in Syrian detention camps such as Al-Hol and Al-Roj, “most of whom are vulnerable children under the age of 12”.

Countries around the world have debated how to deal with citizens who joined ISIL but now wish to return to their home countries.

It remains unclear whether any of those being repatriated to Canada could face prosecution for alleged involvement with the group.

“Where there is sufficient evidence, law enforcement and public safety agencies will independently take the necessary steps to keep our communities safe,” Global Affairs Canada said in Thursday’s statement.

“We reiterate that it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to leave Canada to knowingly support a terrorist group and those who engage in these activities will face the full force of Canadian law.”

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters