More than a dozen Canadian citizens, including 10 children and four women, are being repatriated from detention camps in northeast Syria, according to a press release from Global Affairs Canada. The individuals were allegedly affiliated with ISIS and had been held in a Syrian camp for foreigners. The Canadian government cited deteriorating conditions in the camps as the reason for bringing the women and children home. The move follows criticism of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for moving slowly to repatriate Canadians held in the Syrian camps, which are known for poor conditions.
The 14 citizens were released from the Al-Roj detention camp and flown to Germany on a United States military plane before being put onto flights bound for Canada on Thursday. However, the number was lower than anticipated. In January, the Canadian government agreed to work on securing the release of 19 citizens 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.
Despite the repatriation, more Canadians remain stuck in Syrian camps. 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 CTV News that children in the camps face risks such as malnutrition. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 42,400 foreign adults and children with alleged affiliation with ISIS have been held in camps in Syria since the group was territorially defeated in 2019.
Countries around the world have debated how to deal with citizens who joined ISIS 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 ISIS. The press release from Global Affairs Canada stated that law enforcement and public safety agencies will independently take necessary steps to keep communities safe, and that it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to knowingly support a terrorist group. Those who engage in these activities will face the full force of Canadian law. Canada remains committed to fighting against ISIS and global terrorism while defending human rights both domestically and abroad.