New Finland Leader: 'Silent Blessing' Given to Bring Home ISIS Children

Wednesday, 11 December, 2019 - 18:15
Asharq Al-Awsat

Finland’s new prime minister said on Wednesday the center-left coalition government had given its “silent blessing” to the Foreign Minister to go ahead with plans to repatriate children of women who traveled to Syria to join ISIS.

The remarks by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, a day after she took office, could set the stage for a conflict within her five-member center-left coalition, which has yet to agree a position on the issue of repatriations, reported Reuters.

The coalition’s second biggest party, the Center Party, which toppled Marin’s predecessor last week, has so far withheld support for the Foreign Ministry’s plans.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said he had nominated a special envoy to look into how more than 30 Finnish children currently trapped at the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria could be brought home.

“(Our) guidelines include the idea that at least the children could be brought to safety from the camp within a reasonable timeframe,” Haavisto told reporters, adding that it was not clear how quickly that could take place.

The Red Cross says around 68,000 people are being held in Al-Hol, mostly the family members of defeated ISIS fighters, two thirds of them children. Finland is one of many EU countries trying to decide what to do about their citizens.

Haavisto said Syrian Kurdish forces, who have kept the ISIS fighters and their families under custody at camps since they took the extremist group’s last enclave, were opposed to the idea of separating children from their mothers.

“If separating a child from their guardian is not legally or factually possible, the premise is that the child’s interest is decisive,” he said.

Haavisto has come under heavy political pressure in recent weeks for his active approach in trying to bring the children back to Finland.

The Center Party has been frightened by the rapid rise in polls of the opposition nationalist Finns Party, which says repatriating ISIS detainees could endanger Finland’s security.

Marin took office on Tuesday after the Center Party withdrew its support from Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne last week, forcing him to step down as prime minister. At 34, Marin is the world’s youngest national leader. All five coalition leaders in the cabinet are women, four of them under 35.

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