Finland has taken two orphaned children of Finnish descent from the overcrowded Al-Hawl refugee camp, where 70,000 people displaced from the territories previously controlled by the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) live.
According to the Finnish newspaper Ilta Sanomat, which quotes Kurdish high-level security sources, two children from Al-Hawl (also spelled as al-Hol) have been handed over to the Finnish authorities.
The children would have been taken across the border with Syria to Erbil (Iraq), escorted by Kurdish forces. Once in Iraq, the children would have already been under the sole custody of the Finnish authorities.
According to Ilta Sanomat, the two orphans were handed over to the Special Representative of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat already reported on Wednesday about an imminent operation to rescue orphans of Finnish descent from Al-Hawl camp and take them to Finland.
The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs confirmed later on Thursday that the public authorities "are preparing to repatriate two Finnish children from the Syrian al-Hol camp." However, the Government said no information about the children will be published and no images will be disclosed in order to ensure their privacy and security. Nor will information on the route or the method of return be provided.
The Ministry of the Interior and the police are coordinating support and security measures related to the returnees, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is coordinating healthcare and social welfare services.
Society is divided
The case has provoked division and bitter discussions within Finnish society, between those who support the Government's decision and those who reject to help the women and children who have lived under the caliphate imposed by the Islamic State. In the Al-Hawl there are still some 10 Finnish women and about 30 children.
It remains to be clarified what will happen to children living with their mothers of Finnish citizenship in the camp, and if Finland will also accept to repatriate those women, whom many citizens consider as "terrorists" and a danger to society.
Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have reminded the Finnish authorities that they should put the protection of their citizens before security reasons.
Children will get immediate support
According to the Finnish Government, the situation of returnees, the necessary support measures and security aspects will be assessed individually. The priority is to provide children with the immediate and longer-term support they need.
“We want to ensure that Finland is a safe country in the future too. This is why our aim is to help these children and any other returnees to integrate into Finnish society. To this end, the authorities will work in close cooperation. Our actions will not be limited to the present; they will need to be continued for many years in the case of some individuals,” says Permanent Secretary Ilkka Salmi from the Ministry of the Interior.
Children who have returned to Finland will be given a health check and a referral to child protection services. In order to ensure privacy and security, the municipality in which individual returnees are staying or may live in the future will not be disclosed. The children have been living in difficult conditions, and need to be protected from the public eye.
“The children are likely to be traumatised in different ways, so they will need to be supported in various ways. We will monitor their situation and support their development on a long-term basis,” says Permanent Secretary Kirsi Varhila from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.