Kurdish authorities responsible for prisons and detention camps housing ISIS militants and their families in northern Syria accused Canada of shirking responsibility by failing to return women and children Canadians at home, despite offers of assistance.
“Let’s put ISIS activists aside,” Abdulkarim Omar, de facto foreign minister of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), said in an interview with CBC News on Monday. .
“Canada must first take responsibility for the women and children who did not participate in crimes. But they ignore it.
The comments come just over a week after a former U.S. diplomat showed willingness and ability to do what the Canadian government apparently failed to do.
Peter Galbraith traveled to Iraq and then overland to northern Syria to pick up the four-year-old daughter of a woman who wanted her child to have a better life with parents in Canada than offered in a camp of detention.
Omar said less than a month ago he reported to Ottawa what he described as a humanitarian case involving another mother and two children with undisclosed health issues.
“We told them their situation was not good and they were aware of it,” he said.
WATCH | Find out about the conditions in the al-Hol detention camp in Syria:
‘We don’t know why they stopped’
The Canadian government did not immediately comment.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government “facilitated travel documents” for the four-year-old girl released from ISIS detention camp, but failed to arrange for her release from the camp. .
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair Blair said the situation in Syria is “quite complex and often dangerous and the repatriation of anyone from this environment has therefore been difficult.” But he said the federal government is ready to offer support where it can.
Asked about the situation on Tuesday morning, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Canada can “show compassion for the innocent while taking a strong, zero-tolerance approach to those who enjoy freedom and freedom.” opportunity that Canada represents and engage. horrible acts of terror abroad. ”
There are about eight Canadian men accused of being IS fighters in Kurdish-run prisons and about 35 women and children in a detention camp called Al Roj, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders.
“Canada was the first country to contact us, asking for their citizens,” Omar said. ” At this moment [in 2018], we were ready to hand them over – the activists and the women. ”
Omar said the administrative process was nearing completion. “We even did the passport application forms, and suddenly [Canada] stopped [the process]. But we don’t know why they stopped. ”
This would coincide with details provided by one of the Canadian detainees at Al Roj camp in an interview with CBC last week.
The woman, a mother of two who asked not to be identified for the sake of her children, said she was initially told she would be transferred to Canadian custody when she was caught leaving territory held by ISIS in October 2017.
She said she was jailed for a few months before being transferred to Al Roj, where there was only one other Canadian at the time. She then said that they had both been returned to prison for transfer into custody in Canada.
“But apparently everything went wrong and we stayed [in the prison] for a month until they bring us back here. ”
WATCH | Margaret Evans of CBC speaks with some of the Canadian wives of ISIS militants in al-Roj detention camp:
In recent weeks, AANES, along with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – which played a key role in ISIS’s territorial defeat in 2019 – have started discussing the need for a tribunal. regional capable of judging and convicting foreign nationals who fought for Islam. State.
AANES and SDF officials insist this is not a new idea, but it marks a subtle shift in stance.
Until then, the Syrian Kurds had insisted much more on the need for foreign nations to come and seek their people and try them at home.
Now the pressure seems to be to bring them to justice in Syria.
“This is what we want,” said Omar. “I wouldn’t say an international tribunal, but something similar, with the cooperation of countries whose fighters are in prison here. “
“Justice must take place”
It is not known what prompted the change of mind, although one possibility was simply that it became clear that no one was listening to calls from Syrian Kurds to come and pick up their citizens.
Another is that a quasi-international tribunal, as unlikely as it is, would offer legitimacy to the Syrian Kurds and their autonomous administration in a country still in the midst of a civil war.
“This is the only solution, especially when the international community does not want to take [the children] back, ”said Omar, when asked about the strategy.
“What should be the alternative? Should we free them? Justice must take place. “
Omar says the Syrian Kurds cannot handle the large number of prisoners on their own.
In particular, they struggle to keep the police in the larger detention camp, known as Al Hol, where ISIS still manages to channel weapons and influence.
About 60,000 people live in the camp, which includes those displaced after the fall of ISIS and the families and dependents of ISIS militants themselves.
“We are facing a huge problem with the children in these camps,” Omar said.
“These children are victims and it is a moral matter, and that is why their countries must fulfill their duties towards them. If they grow up [in the camp], they will become terrorists. ”