Pekka Puustinen, a state undersecretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, spoke about the situation of Finnish nationals in al-Hol, Syria, in Helsinki on 11 December 2019. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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OFFICIALS at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs have confirmed that three Finnish mothers and nine children returned yesterday to Finland from al-Hawl, a detention camp set up for the women and children of the so-called Islamic State in Syria.

The women and children are currently in the care of social and health care officials and under the supervision of law enforcement officials.

“They’re generally in good condition, at least physically, in light of the circumstances – and I really mean in light of the circumstances. The families are now taken care of by social and health care officials, but also the police is looking after them,” Pekka Puustinen, a state undersecretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, said in a press conference in Helsinki on Sunday.

“The families escaped from the camp by themselves. The children and mothers escaped from the camp at different times and, as the events transpired, information has been passed up the chain at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.”

Puustinen declined to comment on how they managed to flee the detention camp but said the women and children spent “a little bit of time” in Ankara, Turkey. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs, he added, helped them to obtain travel documents in co-operation with authorities in Turkey. No officials, however, escorted them on their commercial return flight to Finland.

“Generally speaking they just found a way to escape from the camp,” he summarised.

It may be challenging to ascertain that the mothers and children are indeed related as they claim to be, he admitted.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has entered into a repayment agreement with the returnees that covers not only the flight costs but also other costs incurred during the return. “Finland won’t be left with any costs in that regard,” said Puustinen.

Finland, he stressed, is in no way encouraging people to attempt to escape from the camp due to the dangers associated with it.

Puustinen conceded that another aspect that remains unknown is whether the returnees have any ties to the Islamic State. The returnees have, however, been explained on a general level what awaits them in Finland.

Al-Hawl continues to house around 20 children and fewer than 10 adults from Finland, according to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

“The coronavirus epidemic is having a major impact on co-operation with the local Kurdish troops. The co-operation will continue to the degree that’s possible, but we’re not in a position to organise returns due to the pandemic. As soon as the coronavirus situation quiets down, we can continue the return operation,” he said, declining to comment on how long the operation would take.

“Finland tries to engage in negotiations to bring the children back to Finland, to make sure the children’s rights are realised,” he summarised.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi