UN says Finland violated child rights in Syria camps

A UN committee issues findings after considering a case filed on behalf of six Finnish children held at al-Hol camp.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has accused Finland of violating the rights of Finnish children by leaving them in life-threatening conditions in Syrian camps.

The committee of 18 independent experts issued the findings on Wednesday after considering a case filed on behalf of six Finnish children held at al-Hol camp in Syria’s northeast region. The children belong to parents suspected of fighting for armed group ISIL (ISIS).

The committee said the prolonged detention of child victims “in life-threatening conditions” amounted to “inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”.

“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 CRC said in a statement.

A picture shows the al-Hol camp, which holds relatives of suspected ISIL (ISIS) group fighters in the northeastern Hasakah governorate [File: Delil Souleiman/AFP]

The case was brought to the committee in 2019, after which three of the children were able to leave the camp 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 experts said.

The committee said it was the second time it had examined the detention of children in the northeast refugee camps. Previously it investigated three cases filed against France.

‘Inhuman’

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

“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.

The committee, whose opinions and recommendations are non-binding, said that Finland had not given due consideration to the 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.

In the interim, the committee said Finland should take further measures to “mitigate the risks to life, survival and development of the child victims while they remain in northeast Syria”.

Al-Hol camp

Al-Hol houses approximately 56,000 people and is the largest of several camps in northeast Syria holding relatives of suspected armed fighters.

A large number of inhabitants are women and children. Aid agencies have long complained of inhumane conditions in the overcrowded camp.

Most residents are Syrians or Iraqis, but an estimated 10,000 are wives and children of ISIL fighters from other countries. The camp is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The UN reported last year that several children had died there. The reasons varied from complications as a result of malnutrition, diarrhoea or internal bleeding.

In June, Belgium flew back six Belgian women and their 16 children born to ISIL fighter fathers from al-Hol. Meanwhile, in July 2021, Belgium brought home 10 children and six mothers from another camp in Syria.

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