The Danish government has said it will establish a ‘taskforce’ to look at options for repatriating 19 children with Danish nationality or claims to Danish nationality from prison camps in northeastern Syria.
The decision was announced by the country’s foreign ministry in a statement on Tuesday. In the statement, the ministry said that the minority government has agreed with a broad range of parliamentary parties to appoint a “fast-working taskforce” in relation to the matter.
“By no later than May 15th, (the task force) will reveal whether evacuation of the Danish children without their parents based on individual assessment can be conducted in a secure manner and, within the framework of Denmark’s obligations to (international) conventions, provide concrete models for this and take relevant steps to prepare evacuations,” the ministry statement reads.
In addition to the government, the Liberal, Conservative and Liberal Alliance parties on the right wing; and Social Liberal and Socialist People’s parties on the left back the taskforce.
A total of 19 children, who are either children of or “connected to” Danish citizens or former Danish citizens are known to be accommodated at two Kurdish-controlled camps in northeastern Syria.
The children are aged between 0 and 14 years. Nine were born in Denmark and ten in conflict zones.
The six mothers of the children in question have all stated that they wish to return to Denmark. Three of the six have had their Danish citizenships withdrawn administratively, according to earlier reports.
The Kurdish-controlled camps, al-Hol and al-Roj, house suspected relatives and sympathisers of Islamic State (Isis) fighters. The children are ostensibly in the camps because their mothers travelled to Syria in support of the terrorist group.
According to NGO Human Rights Watch, 43,000 foreign men, women, and children linked to Isis remain detained in “inhuman or degrading conditions” by regional authorities in northeastern Syria, two years after they were rounded up during the fall of Isis.
Until recently, the government has refused to extract the children from the camps, primarily citing security reasons. The Danish intelligence service FE has said in a report that leaving them in Syria poses more of a potential security risk to Denmark than repatriating them.
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The other argument for repatriating the children is humanitarian in nature.
A panel of experts have previously provided analyses at the request of the foreign ministry in which they recommended a four-year-old girl at Al-Roj be removed from the camp in order to receive treatment for PTSD. The experts, which include senior medical advisors, also said it would further traumatise the girl to separate her from her mother.
In the statement released on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said that “adult militants who have joined a fight against our democratic values of freedom and equality are unwanted in Denmark”.
Each of the supporting conservative parties said via statements included in the press release that they wish to help the stranded children without allowing their parents to return to Denmark.
“We have consistently said that we would like to look into how we can help the children but we will under no circumstances, either directly or indirectly, have the parents in Denmark, so nothing has changed for us,” the Liberal party foreign affairs spokesperson Michael Aastrup Jensen said.
The Red-Green Alliance, the only left-wing parliamentary group not to back the agreement, has criticised the taskforce plan and accused the government of “pickling”, or dragging out a resolution to the situation.
“The children in these camps are in mortal danger and we have already been through every legal clause in relation to what can be done,” the party’s justice spokesperson Rosa Lund said to news wire Ritzau.
“It may be that (Prime Minister) Mette Frederiksen knows different lawyers to us, who have a different interpretation, so that children and mothers can be separated. We don’t believe so, so we can only see this as a pickling jar,” Lund added.
Representatives from various Danish ministries already sit on a pre-existing group whose tasks include assessing the situation with the children in Syria, Ritzau writes.
Charity Save the Children Denmark (Red Barnet) has urged the government to evacuate both the children and their mothers to Denmark.
“We have not been able to see any legal way… to bring the children to Denmark without their mothers. And even if a legal way was found, it would be in breach of conventions, so that would be clearly against our recommendation,” the organisation’s general secretary Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen told Ritzau.
The children would be “further traumatised by be being separated from their primary guardian – in this case their mothers,” Schmidt-Nielsen added.
“Our clear recommendation… (is) that the children are brought to Denmark with their mothers. On Danish soil, there should be a professional assessment of the mothers’ parental capabilities just as they naturally should face the consequences of their actions under the Danish legal system,” she added.