Canada to repatriate 19 women, children from Syria

Canada will repatriate six women and 13 infants who have been detained in northeast Syria in camps for family members of Islamic State Group fighters, Ottawa announced Friday.

It is the largest such repatriation of IS family members yet for Canada, and comes after the women went to court to force the government to bring them home, saying it was obliged to under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On Friday the country's foreign ministry said it had reached a "mutually acceptable resolution" of the case over their application to return.

The agreement resolved the case for the 19 Canadian women and children, but left four men who are also seeking repatriation as part of the case to be decided on in the coming weeks.

"The safety and security of Canadians is our government's top priority," said Global Affairs Canada, the foreign ministry.

"We continue to evaluate the provision of extraordinary assistance on a case by case basis, including repatriation to Canada, in line with the policy framework adopted in 2021," it said.

Up until now the government of Justin Trudeau has treated the detained IS families on a case-by-case basis, and in four years only a handful of women and children have been repatriated.

Since the destruction of the Islamic State "caliphate" across Syria and Iraq in 2019, more than 42,400 foreign adults and children with alleged ties to the Islamic State have been held in camps in Syria, according to Human Rights Watch.

Repatriating them is a highly sensitive issue for many countries, but rights groups have denounced their reluctance to bring back their own nationals from the camps, controlled mostly by Syrian Kurds.

Human Rights Watch said around 30 Canadian citizens, including 10 infants, remain in the camps.

Farida Deif, the group's head in Canada, said that Global Affairs Canada has informed a number of them by letter that they fulfill the requirements for repatriation.

However, she said, "none of the men have been notified of anything or have been part of any agreements thus far."

The authorities did not say when the 19 would come to Canada or whether any of them would face legal proceedings for their association with Islamic State.

Last October Canada brought back two women and two children from Syria.

In 2020, Ottawa allowed the return of a five year old orphan girl from Syria after her uncle initiated a legal action against the Canadian government.

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