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'Finland violated rights of children in Syria camps'

By AFP - Oct 12,2022 - Last updated at Oct 12,2022

GENEVA — Finland violated the rights of Finnish children left to languish for years in life-threatening conditions in Syrian camps for family members of suspected jihadists, a UN watchdog said on Wednesday.

"Finland has the responsibility and power to protect the Finnish children in the Syrian camps against an imminent risk to their lives by taking action to repatriate them," the UN child rights committee said in a statement.

In the findings, which echoed a previous ruling concerning France's responsibility towards French children stuck in the camps, the committee said "prolonged detention of child victims in life-threatening conditions amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment".

The committee, whose 18 independent experts are tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issued the findings after considering a case filed on behalf of six Finnish children currently held at the Al Hol camp in Syria's northeast.

Since their relatives brought the case to the committee in 2019, three of the children have been able to leave the camp on their own initiative with their mother, and eventually arrived back in Finland.

“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.

The petition from their relatives also mentioned 33 other Finnish children held at the camp without access to legal assistance.

Housing around 56,000 people, Al Hol is the largest of a number of camps in the region holding relatives of suspected extremists, mostly women and children.

Most are Syrians or Iraqis, but an estimated 10,000 are wives and children of Daesh fighters from other countries, many of whom are still thought to be highly radicalised.

Repeated calls for Western countries to repatriate their nationals have largely fallen on deaf ears.

“The situation of children in the camps has been widely reported as inhuman, lacking basic necessities including water, food and health care, and facing an imminent risk of death,” committee member Ann Skelton warned.

Two children die every week on average in Al Hol due to the dismal conditions, the Save the Children campaign group warned in a report last year, while the UN has reported more than 100 murders at the camp in just 18 months.

The committee, whose opinions and recommendations are non-binding, said that Finland had not given due consideration to children’s best interests when assessing their relatives’ requests for repatriation.

“We call on Finland to take immediate and decisive action to preserve the lives of these children, and to bring them home to their families,” Skelton said.

 

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