It's 'immoral' to not let Canadians detained in Syria come home: human rights advocate
Published Thursday, May 30, 2019 10:59AM EDT
LONDON -- A simple question, or one that should be simply answered: Why won’t Canada allow 28 women and children now being detained in Syrian refugee camps to come home? One of them is a newborn. Are they criminals?
In truth, the camps are more like prison, without adequate water, food or medicine. Where the Kurdish guards—who have little themselves—are accused of taking care packages or money sent by worried families.
And so, those families back in Canada are now afraid to send anything, in case their daughters and grandchildren are targeted, assaulted and robbed.
A young Canadian named Aimee recently gave birth to a son there. She named him Mohammed. His father was a Bosnian, who died fighting for ISIS. Conditions in her camp are routinely described as appalling and threatening.
If we believe Aimee’s story, she naively followed her first husband from Western Canada to Syria, where he wanted to live under the self-declared “caliphate.” They took their two young sons, without really telling their families where they were going. He, too, was killed fighting for ISIS.
Aimee’s desperation to come home is met with contempt by many in Canada—by people anonymously trolling and spewing their hatred on the internet. And by a Liberal government that is using a dubious reason to justify its inaction.
“Given the security situation on the ground, the Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance in any part of Syria is extremely limited.” That comes from Global Affairs Canada.
How then can journalists, family members, aid workers and intelligence officers readily travel back and forth?
Clive Stafford Smith is a human rights advocate who has spent his life pursuing less than popular causes—death row inmates in America, prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. And has now turned his attention to the stranded women and children of eastern Syria.
Of Canada he says bluntly: “It’s just immoral not to take a little infant like that back to Canada.”
UNICEF, the international children’s agency, has issued its own plea for help and understanding. It estimates there are more than 9,000 foreign children detained in Syria, most of them under the age of 12.
“They are a very special case,” says Juliette Touma, a UNICEF official based in Jordan. “They need special care. They need assistance. They are like any other child in the world.”
Canada’s unwillingness to intervene, as other countries have intervened, seems to be entirely political. As I have been told countless times, it’s all about the next election. The Liberal Party not wanting to be seen as soft on terrorism.
“Political cowardice,” says Smith. “They’re not willing to do the right thing, because they might be politically unpopular with the xenophobes. That’s just wrong.”
The families back in Canada are exasperated by the government’s response and terrified by what news they’re getting from sporadic text messages sent on smuggled phones.
One mother, who doesn’t want to be identified, described her daughter as sick, down to 45 kilos and desperately frightened.
“Someone will die there,” she told me. “I’ve been fearing this every day.”