UN rebukes Finland for violating rights of its children held in Syria camps

Child rights committee says Helsinki must do more to repatriate those detained as relatives of suspected Islamic State fighters

A UN watchdog has accused Finland of violating the rights of Finnish children stuck in Syrian prison camps holding suspected jihadists and their families.

Adding to mounting criticism directed at western countries, the UN child rights committee said Finland had a responsibility to make serious efforts to bring the children home.

The country “has the capability and the power to protect the rights of the children in question by taking action to repatriate them or provide other consular responses”, the committee said in a report released on Wednesday,

It said the “prolonged detention of the child victims” in conditions where they lacked healthcare, food, water, sanitation facilities and education “constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

The committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, investigated the case after a 2019 petition filed by relatives on behalf of six Finnish children held at the al-Hawl camp in north-east Syria.

Three of the children have returned to Finland with their mother but three are stuck. “The remaining three child victims, currently between five and six years old, are still detained in closed camps in a war-like zone,” the committee said.

A further 33 Finnish children are held at the camp, which is controlled by the western-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces. Al-Hawl houses about 56,000 people, of whom approximately 10,000 are wives and children of Islamic State fighters.

On average, two children die every week in al-Hawl as a result of the dismal conditions, Save the Children said in a report last year.

Western countries have largely failed to make efforts to repatriate their nationals.

The European court of human rights condemned France last month over its refusal to repatriate French women who travelled to Syria with their partners to join IS.

More French citizens joined IS in Syria than those of any other European country, and for years Paris viewed women who left to to do so as fighters.

The UK has faced similar pressure from MPs and human rights groups but it has so far only repatriated some children and no women, arguing that the women pose a national security threat. In the case of some, including Shamima Begum, who left London aged 15, the government has removed their UK citizenship.

Other European countries such as Belgium and Germany have recovered most of their citizens who left to fight in Syria, and Australia is preparing to launch a mission to rescue dozens of its women and children trapped in camps.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Oliver Holmes

The GuardianTramp

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