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Unable to leave Syria, mothers of Canadian children forfeit repatriation to keep their families together

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In a choice forced upon them by the Canadian government, four mothers have made the agonizing decision to forfeit an opportunity to repatriate their children from open air prisons in northeast Syria.

The foreign women have children with Canadian citizens, but their husbands are missing or have been killed in fighting during Syria’s civil war. The government suspects they and their husbands may have traveled to the region to join the Islamic State, but no evidence has been presented in court.

Global Affairs said the children of these Canadian men were eligible to be brought home, but not their wives. The women were given a March 31 deadline to decide if they will relinquish guardianship of their children in order to get them to safety. Four women and ten children are impacted by the ultimatum.

Backed into a corner, the mothers have chosen to stay with their children. They made their desperate decision as RCMP officers visited Al-Roj camp this week as part of arrangements for imminent repatriation.

Former Liberal justice minister and attorney general Allan Rock calls the Trudeau government’s demands of the foreign mothers “cruel and deeply disturbing.”

“To think that the children would be torn from their mothers and be alone in Canada is so far distant from the way we think of our country and the way we behave in the world,” said Rock in a phone interview.

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS REPATRIATION SHOULDN’T BE POLITICIZED

Rock, who is a president emeritus of the University of Ottawa and a retired law professor, says the Trudeau government is likely “hypersensitive” to being labeled “soft on terrorism.”

“I find it difficult to believe that the security of Canada will be at risk because we admitted four women with their children,” said Rock, who is also among more than 100 legal experts who called for the repatriation of all Canadian detainees in an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau earlier this week.

“These are matters that are too important to be concerned about political fallout. This is a decision about the lives of children. We should let our collective humanity govern,”said Rock.

Toronto immigration lawyer Asiya Hirji represents two foreign women who have children with extensive medical needs.

One of Hirji’s clients, a 36 year-old woman has a non-verbal autistic son and another child who hasn’t healed from severe burns after falling into a kerosene heater. Another client has children diagnosed with intestinal parasites.

“For the life of me I can’t understand the logic. My heart bleeds for these children who have known no other life than a life with their mom,” said Hirji.

Hirji says her client’s children have no relatives in Canada, and would have to be placed in foster care if they were repatriated without their mothers.

“They will be a tremendous burden on Canada’s healthcare system while their mothers are in another country,” Hirji said in a zoom interview.

SIGNS REPATRIATION COULD HAPPEN WITHIN DAYS

Global Affairs Canada confirmed to CTV News that it was imposing on the mothers to choose if they would separate from their children.

“Non-Canadian parents with Canadian children may request or agree for their children to be repatriated to Canada…Agreeing to or requesting repatriation for one’s child is an incredibly difficult decision and one that must be made by the parent and the parent alone,” said the GAC spokesperson Grantly Franklin.

With the Mounties in Syria, and the House of Commons on its Easter break, advocates say signs point to repatriation flights occurring within days. Meanwhile the clock is running out on an immigration solution to keep the families together.

Hirji and other immigration lawyers applied for emergency temporary resident permits for the four non-Canadian mothers. The TRP submissions included analysis by Canadian pediatricians of medical documents obtained from the Kurdish-run camps in Syria.

The applications for the TRPs were sent to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s office in February, yet Hirji says there has been no response.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada said privacy legislation prevents the department from commenting on a CTV request for a status update on the TRP’s.

Meanwhile at the Al-Roj camp in Syria, a Canadian mother has been caught in a new bureaucratic nightmare. She is one of seven Canadian women who declined to be interviewed by RCMP officers who were at the camp this week vetting security risks.

Advocates for the detainees say that after refusing to be interviewed, a Global Affairs official called the woman and informed her she may not be on the flight with her six children because her file was incomplete.

“In her head there is pressure on her to agree to be interviewed by police,” says Alexandra Bain of Families Against Violent Extremism.

According to lawyers familiar with the Global Affairs repatriation settlement there is no requirement for any of the 26 Canadian women and children to speak to police while they are in the camps.

In addition to the women and children, at least four Canadian men are imprisoned in Northeast Syria. The government of Canada is appealing a federal court order to bring them home. The Federal Court Of Appeal is expected to make a decision soon.

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