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Canada repatriates women, children from Syrian camps

Canada on Thursday repatriated four women and 10 children being held in detention camps in Syria. Photo by Hedinn Halldorsson/OCHA/Website
Canada on Thursday repatriated four women and 10 children being held in detention camps in Syria. Photo by Hedinn Halldorsson/OCHA/Website

April 6 (UPI) -- Canada said it's in the process of repatriating more than a dozen citizens, including 10 children, from Kurdish-operated Syrian detention camps holding thousands of foreign nationals accused of being connected to the Islamic State.

Little was clear about the repatriation of the four women and 10 children, but the number is lower than the 19 Canadian citizens, including six women and 13 children, Ottawa agreed to repatriate in January.

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Canada agreed to repatriated the 19 citizens amid a court case entitled Bring Our Loved Ones Home brought against Ottawa by the families of more than two dozen Canadians detained in Syria. Litigation continues over four Canadian men held in makeshift prisons in northeastern Syria over suspicion of having gone to the Middle East to fight for IS.

"The safety and security of Canadians, both at home and abroad, is our utmost priority," Global Affairs Canada and Public Safety Canada said Thursday in a joint statement announcing the repatriation. "Amidst reports of deteriorating conditions in the camps in northeastern Syria, we have been particularly concerned about the health and well being of Canadian children."

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In a January ruling in the case, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown said the conditions of the camps holding the Canadian women and children involved in the court case were "to say the least, very poor" and lacked adequate food and medical attention.

"in my view they are dire," Brown wrote. "These individuals live in crowded and unsanitary conditions."

Global Affairs Canada and Public Safety Canada said in the Thursday statement that Ottawa has taken "extraordinary steps" to repatriate those identified in the Bring Our Loved Ones Home litigation and that they "will continue this work" as conditions allow.

The Save the Children Fund said 21 Canadians have now been repatriated from Syria, with Thursday's announcement being the fourth repatriation since the collapse of the Islamic State in March of 2019, which caused tens of thousands of women and children to arrive at al-Hoi and Roj detention camps.

The United States, which has for years called on nations to repatriate their citizens detained in Syria, welcomed the move by Canada on Thursday, stating Washington supported Ottawa's repatriation effort stands ready to assist other nations with theirs.

According to the United Nations, al-Hol and Roj are the two largest locked camps for women, girls and boys, holding some 56,000 people, including 37,000 foreign nationals.

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"Repatriation is the only durable solution for this population, most of whom are vulnerable children under the age of 12," U.S. State Department Vedant Patel said Thursday in a statement.

The repatriation comes after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month called on nations to repatriate their citizens from the al-Hol camp.

"They deserve a path out. This is a matter of human decency and compassion -- and it is a matter of security," he said. "Because the longer we let this untenable situation fester, the more resentment and despair will grow, and the greater the risks to security and stability.

"We must prevent the legacy of yesterday's fight from fueling tomorrow's conflict."

According to Save the Children, nine countries, including Canada, have repatriated citizens this year. The number of women and children repatriated is 197.

Last year, 517 foreign nationals were repatriated, up from 324 a year prior.

"Canada has done the right thing by repatriating these children and bringing their perilous stay in the camps to an end," Rasha Muhrez, Save the Children Syria response director, said in a statement. "These children and their mothers can now look forward to rebuilding their lives at home, in Canada, where they belong and can finally start receiving the specialized support they need and deserve."

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