Children at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp in Syria/Lehtikuva

News in brief

According to several sources, Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised a distance learning programme for Finnish children being held in Syria’s al-Hol camp without the knowledge of Kurdish authorities. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with other ministries and the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation Kvs, reportedly undertook the initiative as a means of safeguarding the childrens’ fundamental right to education. 

A total of 23 Finnish children participated voluntarily in the programme, which provided learning materials such as pictures and videos via the Whatsapp application on their mothers’ phones. Finnish daily Helsingin-Sanomat first broke the story on Sunday.

The distance learning programme was kept hidden from the Kurdish authorities who run the refugee camp, which houses over 60,000 family members of men who have ties to the terrorist organisation ISIS. Cell phones are officially forbidden on the premises. 

Helsingin-Sanomat reports that the Ministry also did not seek permission from the camp’s administration out of fear that it would put the lives of the students and their families in danger. 

The programme’s content was designed by the Kvs Foundation’s Kulkuri School of Distance Education and included materials on Finnish, mathematics, environmental studies, history and English. 

In addition to distance education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged virtual doctor visits for the children, enabling mothers to receive medical advice via instant messages. However, the lack of computers and poor network connection at the camp often made correspondence difficult. 

According to MTV, the distance education began in May 2020 but stopped this Spring when communications with the mothers were abruptly and inexplicably cut. The camp has recently seen a spate of violent incidents and deaths.

In July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that two-thirds of the Finns in al-Hol had already been repatriated. However, a dozen Finnish children were reportedly still being held in the camp at the time.


Tahira Sequeira

Helsinki Times