Prime Minister Antti Rinne met on Friday with relatives of Finnish women and children living at the al-Hol refugee camp, established in northeastern Syria for family members of Islamic State (IS or Isis) combatants. There are an estimated 40-50 Finns at the camp.
Also taking part in the meeting were Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo and Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru.
“I heard the relatives describe the conditions of those at the al-Hol camp. I told them that the Finnish state has been working hard to find a solution to the situation,” Rinne said in a statement afterwards.
The meeting was part of the cabinet ministers’ fact-finding process regarding the situation, according to the Council of State. Last month, a couple of weeks after taking office, the new premier told Parliament that there were “no plans to use consular services to bring these people to Finland”.
Supo responds to criticism
In an Yle interview on Wednesday morning, Professor Martin Scheinin criticised the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) for labelling all the Finns at al-Hol as a security threat. Scheinin is Professor of International Law and Human Rights at the European University Institute and a former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.
Later that day, Supo denied that it is evaluating those who left the Isis territory and are now at al-Hol as one group, but rather that each case is being considered separately.
“According to current information there are about 10 Finnish women and about 30 children at the camp,” the agency said on Wednesday. Previously officials have said there were 11 women and 33 children there.
“An immense challenge”
IS family members were evacuated to al-Hol earlier this year when the extremist group lost the last of its territory.
The Finnish Red Cross (FRC) said last month that the camp held some 74,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children. An estimated 10,000 are foreigners.
The UN has called on western countries to help bring their citizens home from the remote desert camp near the Iraqi border. The International Red Cross recently described conditions there as “horrifying”.
Eight FRC aid workers are among the staff of a 30-bed Nordic field hospital that opened at the site last month.
“More than 64,000 people have come to the al-Hol camp since December. More than half of these people are children. The bearing capacity of the camp has already been exceeded, and trying to meet people’s needs is an immense challenge,” the FRC’s head of international disaster aid, Tiina Saarikoski, said last month.
On Thursday, a German court ruled that three children and their mother, originally from northern Germany, must be located and repatriated from al-Hol.