Finland aims to repatriate IS children from Syria 'as soon as possible'

By Anne Kauranen
FILE PHOTO: A general view of al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate

By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland will try to repatriate children of Finnish mothers who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State "as soon as possible", Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Monday.

Finland is one of a number of European Union member states facing a decision over whether to bring home citizens with IS links who are trapped at the al-Hol camp displacement camp controlled by Kurds in northeastern Syria.

More than 30 children born to 11 Finnish women are at al-Hol, according to Finnish media, and the fate of the mothers has caused divisions in Finland's five-party coalition government that took office last week.

The Centre Party, a coalition ally of Marin's Social Democrats, opposes letting the wives of IS fighters back into Finland but supports repatriating their children.

The Centre Party is worried by the rise in the polls of the opposition nationalist Finns Party, which says repatriating Islamic State detainees could endanger Finland's security.

Marin said that, in an attempt to resolve the dispute in the coalition, the government had decided each case should be judged on its own merits.

"The aim of the authorities' actions is to protect the interests of the child in all circumstances," Marin said, leaving the door open for the repatriation of some of the mothers with their children.

"There is no obligation to assist adults who went to the region of their own accord," she said.

Repatriating children without their mothers is unlikely to happen as Syrian Kurdish forces, who control the territory that includes al-Hol, oppose separating children from their mothers.

Marin's government faces questioning on the issue in parliament on Tuesday.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)