Danish prime minister changes stance on children in Syrian prison camps 

Danish prime minister changes stance on children in Syrian prison camps 
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in parliament on Wednesday. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has signalled for the first time that the government could act to repatriate 19 children who are Danish nationals from prison camps in northeastern Syria.

Newspaper BT first reported on Tuesday that the PM was now open to bringing the children to Denmark after meeting with leaders of allied left-wing parties.

Frederiksen said that she had discussed options for helping the children with the parties, which prop up her minority government, amid increasing pressure on the government to act on the issue.

The Kurdish-controlled camps, al-Hol and al-Roj, house former militants and supporters of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group. The children are ostensibly in the camps because their mothers travelled to Syria in support of Isis.

“There are children which have ended up in a very unfortunate situation due to their parents’ very wrong choices. We’ve always said we wanted to help those children,” Frederiksen claimed in comments to journalists, reported by news wire Ritzau.

In January this year, the PM told newspaper Berlingske that “if helping the children (in Syria) means their parents are also helped to get to Denmark, then we can’t make that choice”.

Until now, the government has refused to extract the children from the camps, primarily citing security reasons. But the Danish intelligence service FE has said in a report that leaving them in Syria poses more of a potential security risk to Denmark than repatriating them.

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The other argument for repatriating the children is humanitarian in nature.

A panel of experts have previously provided analyses at the request of the foreign ministry in which they recommended a four-year-old girl at Al-Roj be removed from the camp in order to receive treatment for PTSD. The experts, which include senior medical advisors, also said it would further traumatise the girl to separate her from her mother.

A senior UN rapporteur recently criticised Denmark for refusing to repatriate the children.

Details of how the children might be repatriated remain to be clarified, as does what might happen to their mothers, who could be expected to face prosecution in Denmark if they returned to the country.

Frederiksen stressed on Tuesday that the government still has no intention of helping the children’s mothers, who she said had “turned their backs on Denmark”.

“We will look at whether we can help the children. Some children have been (previously) brought home to Denmark. It may be relevant for more children to come to Denmark. But we have no wish to help their parents,” she said.

Asked whether she wanted to repatriate the children, the PM responded, “No. I want to help the children. Exactly how that will be done must be discussed with the parties in parliament.”

Pressure has increased on the government over the issue following reporting by newspaper Ekstra Bladet, which has shown the children are at risk of radicalisation in the camps. The foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, has faced mounting criticism over the government’s lack of transparency on security reports related to the matter.

The Danish foreign ministry previously recently released a count of the number of Danish nationals, including women and children, who are currently at the two camps.

A total of 19 children, who are either children of or “connected to” Danish citizens or former Danish citizens are known to be accommodated at the camps. Their Danish citizenships are “not confirmed”, according to the ministry.

They are aged between 0 and 14 years. Nine of the children were born in Denmark and ten in conflict zones.

The six mothers of the children in question have all stated that they wish to return to Denmark. Three of the six have had their Danish citizenships withdrawn administratively, according to earlier reports.

“Men, women, and children from around the world are entering a third year of unlawful detention in life-threatening conditions in northeast Syria while their governments look the other way,” Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director with NGO Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday in a statement on the situation with the camps.

“Governments should be helping to fairly prosecute detainees suspected of serious crimes and free everyone else,” Tayler added.

According to the organisation, 43,000 foreign men, women, and children linked to Isis remain detained in “inhuman or degrading conditions” by regional authorities in northeastern Syria, two years after they were rounded up during the fall of the terrorist group.


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