Canadian families take legal action to repatriate loved ones from Syria

The lawsuit seeks the repatriation of 26 Canadians detained in northeastern Syria, 15 of whom are children.

Canadians detained in northeastern Syria live in dire conditions and some face death from disease and malnutrition.

A group of Canadian families have launched a joint lawsuit to force the Canadian government to repatriate their loved ones, who are currently stranded in detention centers and prisons in northeastern Syria.

The case, filed Monday, represents 11 Canadian families and seeks the repatriation of 26 Canadians from northeastern Syria.

Canada has generally resisted efforts to remove its citizens from Syria, with the exception of ad hoc cases, such as the repatriation of a five year old orphan in 2020.

The lawyer who presented the case, Lawrence Greenspon, said The New Arabic that families want the Canadian government to formally request the repatriation of its citizens, provide them with the appropriate travel documents and authorize an official state representative to facilitate their return.

Among the 26 Canadians seeking repatriation, there are 15 Canadian children, four men and seven women held in various camps and prisons in northeastern Syria. The youngest of them is two years old, the oldest 48.

Some of the men and women are believed to have gone to Syria to join the Islamic State group during the time of its so-called caliphate. They and their children have been held there since the defeat of the caliphate by the United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March 2019.

Since then, tens of thousands of detainees have been held in overcrowded camps and makeshift prisons, who were either living under ISIS at the time of its defeat or are believed to be combatants themselves.

Greenspon insisted on the anonymity of families and their relatives detained in Syria for fear that they would face reprisals from other detainees and local authorities.

“Families are both steadfast and desperate,” said Greenspon.

“Almost daily, I receive information about the deteriorating health of children and women in the camps and of the men in the prisons. Their lives are at stake, says Greenspon.

Farida Deif, Canadian director of Human Rights Watch, noted that one of the inmates, Kimberly Polman, is at risk of death from internal bleeding and hepatitis.

According to Save The Children, a total of 40,000 children from 60 different countries are living in dire conditions in detention camps in northeastern Syria. In 2021 alone, 62 children died in these camps.

The lawsuit claims that because AANES called on governments to take back their citizens, “it is the inaction of the Canadian government that is currently preventing the repatriation of Canadians detained by the SDF.”

The Canadian government has said in the past that, due to a lack of diplomatic representation in northeastern Syria, it was unable to provide repatriation assistance for citizens detained there.

Other states make similar arguments, but critics argue that the territory is accessible and that local authorities are ready to facilitate repatriation if the political will is there.

The issue of the repatriation of ISIS suspects and their children is a hot topic not only in Canada, but around the world. In Finland, the attempts of its foreign minister to repatriate Finnish children Syria in 2019 led to calls for the minister to be investigated.

Families face enormous public stigma at home, and constituencies are generally wary of the repatriation of anyone, including children, who is associated with ISIS.

Greenspon said he hopes the case will be settled within weeks, but suspects the process could end up taking months.

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