OTTAWA – Four Canadian women and 10 children are on their way home from prison camps in northeastern Syria, the federal government said Thursday.
The Canadians are among the many foreign nationals in Syrian camps run by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the war-torn region from the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The long-anticipated flight to Canada had been expected to bring more people home.
Lawyer Lawrence Greenspon reached an agreement with the federal government in January to repatriate a total of six Canadian women and 13 children who had been part of a court action.
However, two mothers and three children were not at a designated meeting point and missed the flight, Greenspon said Thursday. “They weren’t able to find them.”
He said he expects Global Affairs Canada will try to locate the five individuals and return them to Canada as well.
A Quebec mother and her six children, who also wanted to come to Canada, are not among the returnees either, Greenspon said.
While the six children have been ruled eligible for repatriation from Syria, their mother has been told she cannot join them because her security assessment is incomplete.
It is “inexcusable,” given that Global Affairs said in writing late last November that the woman and her children had met the criteria for federal consideration of assistance to Canadians detained in the region, Greenspon said Thursday.
“It’s just ridiculous to put that up as an excuse.”
In a statement, Global Affairs Canada and Public Safety Canada said that amid reports of deteriorating conditions in the camps, “we have been particularly concerned about the health and well-being of Canadian children.”
“As long as conditions allow, we will continue this work.”
The departments thanked the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria for its co-operation and the United States for its assistance in the repatriation.
“Due to privacy considerations, we cannot provide information about the individuals, and we cannot share details of the repatriation for operational reasons.”
Little is known publicly about the 14 returnees or how they wound up in detention. RCMP officers recently visited Syria to conduct interviews in the camps.
“Where there is sufficient evidence, law enforcement and public safety agencies will independently take the necessary steps to keep our communities safe,” the federal departments said Thursday.
“We reiterate that it is a serious criminal offence for anyone to leave Canada to knowingly support a terrorist group and those who engage in these activities will face the full force of Canadian law.”