Ottawa to examine case of Canadian orphan in Syria, no commitment on timeline
Canada’s public safety minister has promised to examine the case of a Canadian orphan who is trapped at a Syrian refugee camp, but has not given a timetable for action in the four-year-old’s case.
CTV News reported Tuesday on the efforts to save Amira, the sole survivor of a family that joined ISIS. She was sent to the Al-Hawl refugee camp in eastern Syria after her family was killed in an airstrike.
Amira’s uncle, who does not wish to be named out of fear for his family’s safety, told CTV News he’s been desperately trying to bring Amira to Canada --even offering to travel to Syria to pick her up -- but roadblocks from the federal government have prevented any action in the matter.
On Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale called Amira’s situation horrendous and promised to look at the case, but fell short of promising an urgent response.
“The issue is determining all of the facts of these cases and making sure that we know exactly what we're dealing with,” he told reporters.
Speaking more broadly, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the Canadian government can feasibly get someone in a dire situation back to Canada if need be.
“We have the ability to move quickly in cases where there's an urgent need for someone to be removed from a certain area,” he said.
Nastaran Roushan, an immigration and refugee lawyer in Toronto, said bringing Amira to Canada has its set of logistical issues as immigration officials need to prove through a DNA test that she is the daughter of at least one Canadian and someone from the Canadian immigration office would have to be present at the time of the test.
“In this case, I don’t believe that there would be (another option), simply because she doesn’t have a birth certificate from a provincial government in Canada,” she told CTV News Channel.
Amira’s uncle said he was told by the Canadian government it could take six months to process a DNA sample, but Roushan said while obtaining DNA from Amira’s parents might prove challenging, it should only take a fraction of the time.
“I don’t really see this as an obstacle that can’t be overcome, especially in a matter of weeks, rather than the six-month timeline that they’ve given,” she said. “Especially considering the circumstances of a four-year-old child stuck in a refugee camp where there’s abuse and malnutrition.”
The Al-Hawl refugee camp is a vast sea of tents providing shelter to roughly 40,000 people, including the families of fallen ISIS soldiers. Reports out of the camp suggest it’s becoming overcrowded and increasingly dangerous, all while supplies are running dry.
There are a reported 28 Canadians currently detained at Al-Hawl. Among them is baby Fatima, who has come down with a terrible bout of diarrhea and fever.
While mobile phones are banned at the camp, Fatima’s mother was able to send a voice message to her family back in Alberta.
"She's vomiting anything and everything I give her,” Fatima’s mother said in the message. “She's just like lying all day on the bed. I have really bad diarrhea too so I can't even take care of her because I'm so weak."
Over the past few months, Swedish, German, French, Dutch and American officials have arranged for some of those detained at Al-Hawl to return home, but there has been no action from Canada.
UNICEF has described conditions at the camp as “extremely dire” and estimated some 3,000 children from foreign countries are being housed at Al-Hawl, many of whom are under the age of six.
For Fatima’s mother, the conditions at Al-Hawl have grown incredibly dangerous for young children.
"There was like an open sewage drain...and a kid fell inside and drowned,”she said in a second voice recording. “A two-year-old kid, he drowned in s**t and piss."