HRW calls on Canada to repatriate citizens stuck in north-east Syria

Canada has ignored its human rights obligations to citizens who are being held in camps in north-east Syria over links to Daesh, and must facilitate their return, a new report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

The 92-page report, published yesterday, claims Canadian authorities have not repatriated any of the 47 known citizens who are being detained, despite facilitating the return of tens of thousands of residents in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Canada had repatriated or assisted the returns of more than 40,000 citizens and permanent residents from 100 countries in response to Covid-19, including 29 from Syria – but not one of at least 47 citizens held without charge in northeast Syria,” the report, entitled “Bring Me Back to Canada”, reads.

Among the detainees are 26 children, most of whom are under the age of six, and include five-year-old Amira – an orphan who told HRW her parents and siblings were all killed in an air strike on Baghouz in 2019.

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Family members of the 47 prisoners told HRW that Canadian authorities have not contacted their relatives, verified the citizenship of children born to Canadian parents while in Syria, or made efforts to improve the conditions of their detention.

The report quoted one family member in Canada as saying:

Do they just want them to die? That’s what it seems like. … These children, where are they going to get food, medicine, vitamins? … You’re not helping them survive.

Meanwhile, the report goes on to claim Canadian authorities have failed to contact citizens held in camps in north-east Syria and have withheld consular assistance to detainees, in violation of international laws.

The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne, however, claimed in a letter to HRW, that the lack of a Canadian consulate in Syria is the reason the repatriation process has been so slow.

The report provides a set of recommendations to the Canadian government, which include calls for immediate repatriation of “all Canadian citizens detained in northeast Syria, giving priority to children, persons requiring urgent medical assistance, and other particularly vulnerable detainees”.

In recent months up to 20 states, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the US have repatriated citizens, after calls from the Kurdish-led forces for states to take back their nationals. Last week, France facilitated the return of 10 children.

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