Children and adults returning from Syria

Approximately 4,000 people left Europe to travel to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq. Currently a number of countries reflect on what measures to take with regard to the children and women who are in a camp in Syria. Finland considers it highly important that children’s rights are respected and children are helped with all available means. 

A number of people have travelled from Finland to the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq since 2012 and, to date, 20 people have returned. It is estimated that ten Finnish adults and about 30 children are currently living in the Al-Hol camp.

Under the leadership of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the police and other authorities are currently clarifying the situation of those residing in the camp.  The efforts of authorities to solve the situation are founded on the following considerations:

  • Finnish authorities cannot travel to another state’s territory with the purpose to collect children unless the authorities in that country support this. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is therefore currently negotiating with the Kurdish government that maintains the camp.
  • As a rule, under the Child Welfare Act Finnish authorities can decide to remove into care a child who is staying abroad. In this case, however, it is extremely difficult to make that decision as there are no welfare officers in Syria who could meet the child, verify his or her identity, assess the situation and help to execute the decision.
  • As far as possible, Finland aims to take care of the Finns and their children in the camp by providing them with food and medication through various organisations.
  • A number of people have returned and possibly will return on their own initiative as under Finnish law Finnish citizens or persons with a residence permit cannot be prevented from returning to Finland; Finnish citizens always have the right to return. However, Finnish government does not take active measures to help them return to Finland.

How can we prevent radicalisation and extremism? How can we support returnees to detach themselves from a violent ideology?

  • The returnees have often seen, experienced and in some cases committed violent acts. They need services that help them to detach themselves from violence in the same way as those who have grown up or lived in a violent environment.
  • It is important to note that also Islamic communities play a vital role: they can help returnees to leave behind a violent religious interpretation and replace it with a mainstream Islamic interpretation that denounces violence.
  • The situation of a child returning to Finland from the camp will be assessed individually, on a case-by-case basis.The aim is to support each child with a systematic and long-term approach by relying on cooperation among authorities and by promoting his or her chances to return to a normal every-day life.

What about the returnees’ criminal liability?

  • Regardless of gender, when returning from a region in Syria once governed by ISIL, adults will be criminally liable for offences they have committed there. They travelled to the area voluntarily and it is possible that they have been involved in terrorist activities or that they have supported such activities in some ways. In recent years, Finnish legislation regarding terrorist offences was reviewed and it now encompasses a wide range of terrorist acts and measures that support terrorism.
  • Finland will do everything in its power to bring to justice those who are guilty of crimes.
  • Social services will be responsible for dealing with those who are under 15 years of age.

Inquiries

Tarja Mankkinen, Head of Development 
Police Department of the Ministry of the Interior, tel.+358295488370, [email protected]