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Finland violated rights of child nationals in Syria camp, UN Committee rules

Syrian boys walk through a field at a refugee camp in Azaz district of Aleppo, Syria on April 10, 2022. [Bekir Kasim - Anadolu Agency]
Syrian boys walk through a field at a refugee camp in Azaz district of Aleppo, Syria on April 10, 2022. [Bekir Kasim - Anadolu Agency]

Finland has violated the rights of its child nationals stranded in detention camps in north-eastern Syria, according to United Nations child rights experts.

In a statement by the UN Child Rights Committee, which consists of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it stressed that "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".

Following the territorial defeat of the terror group, Daesh, in 2019, its surviving fighters were captured and detained in prisons while their family members, who were with them, were taken to camps in north-east Syria, where they are being kept for an indefinite period of time.

Conditions in the Al-Hol and Roj camps have been described as dire, with a rising crime rate and a lack of sufficient sanitation and resources. The Committee stated that the "prolonged detention of child victims in life-threatening conditions amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment".

READ: Two children die a week in Syria Al-Hawl camp, charity reveals

The relatives of six Finnish children held in the Al-Hol camp first brought their case to the Committee in 2019 and, since then, three of the children have been allowed to leave the camp with their mother and they returned to Finland together. The three remaining children, who are aged between five and six years old, "are still detained in closed camps in a war-like zone," the Committee said.

There are reportedly 33 other Finnish children held in the camps without access to legal assistance, according to the initial petition from their relatives.

Helsinki has failed to give due consideration to the children's best interests when assessing their relatives' requests for repatriation, the Committee ruled. One of its members, Ann Skelton, stated that the Committee and its experts "call on Finland to take immediate and decisive action to preserve the lives of these children and to bring them home to their families".

Many of the foreign nationals in the camps – who consist of women and children – continue to wait for their home countries, or those of their parents, to repatriate them. That process has been slow, especially amongst western and European States which have been reluctant to bring them home due to the threats they would allegedly pose to national security.

The Committee's findings echo those of its previous ruling in March that France had also violated the rights of its child nationals stuck in the Syrian camps and neglected them.

READ: Foreign kids in Syrian camps could languish for decades if repatriation doesn't speed up, says Save the Children

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