Six children will soon be leaving a Syrian prison camp on a flight for Canada, but delays in their mother’s security assessment means the Quebec woman will not be able to come with them.
The mother, who hails from Quebec, had until today to decide if she would allow her children to join other Canadians on the repatriation flight, or if they would remain with her in Syria, according to Alexandra Bain of the group Families Against Violent Extremism.
“I’m shocked. It doesn’t make any sense,” Bain told the Canadian Press in an interview Saturday. “It’s not how I expect Canada to behave.”
The oldest of the six children are two girls, 14 and 13 years old, followed by four boys, the youngest of which is five years old. They have been languishing in a prison camp in northeast Syria with their mother since 2018. Now, they’re set to be separated.
“What she’s been told in the last few days is that the children is eligible for repatriation but she’s expected to stay in the detention camp,” Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer of the Quebec woman, told CTV News.
The Quebec woman and her children are among the numerous foreign nationals who are trapped in camps in war-torn Syria run by Kurdish forces who recovered the area from ISIS forces.
Last November, Global Affairs notified the 38-year-old woman that her family qualified for repatriation because of “deteriorating conditions” in the camp and “threats to her children’s safety.”
She was told officials had “initiated assessments.” CTV News is not publishing the woman’s name due to the sensitivity of the case. Similar letters were sent to 26 other Canadian women and children, including a group who sued in federal court to get repatriation.
The Quebec woman wasn’t part of that initial court case, and four months after getting the letter, her security assessment still hasn’t been completed.
When CTV News inquired about what was missing from the woman’s application and what the status was, considering that she’d been told she met the criteria in November, Global Affairs responded that while they were aware of the Canadian women and children detained in Syria, they could not provide specific details “due to privacy and operational security considerations.”
“We continue to evaluate the provision of extraordinary assistance, including repatriation to Canada, in line with the Policy Framework adopted in 2021,” Grantly Frankin, spokesperson with Global Affairs, said in an emailed statement.
Greenspon said that it violates Canada’s policies to separate the mother and children.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” Greenspon said. “Contrary to every … treaty Canada has signed, and contrary to policy framework of Global Affairs that says thou shall not separate mother and children.”
He added that if there are issues with the woman’s application, there are currently RCMP officers at the camps in Syria, who could interview her in order to clear up whatever is delaying her application being approved.
“The questions they have for her related to when and where she would go once she returns to Canada are perfectly fair questions,” Greenspon said. “Questions about how she got to northeastern Syria, and what she was doing prior to her getting there would be questions outside the bounds of necessity in determining if she should come back to Canada or not.”
Bain told the Canadian Press that the Quebec woman had been beaten and attacked while in detention.
Advocates say the woman’s husband is missing and she doesn’t have relatives in Canada. Four of them were born in Canada, and two were born in Syria. When the children return to Quebec, they will be put in foster care.
“She’s doing this for her children. And she’s terrified that she’s doing the wrong thing,” Bain, whose organization helps families whose loved ones are caught up in violent extremist groups, said.
A flight out is expected any day. On that plane is expected to be the six children, along with six Canadian women and 13 other children who the federal government agreed to bring home as part of the court action.
But the Quebec woman will not be with them, and she has no idea when she’ll be able to see her kids again.
“Her primary impulse is to get them out of harms’ way, but she’s not getting the reassurance from her government that she will be able to participate in her children’s upbringing,” Greenspon said.
News of this Quebec mother’s decision to allow her children to fly home to Canada without her comes just days after a group of foreign-born mothers of Canadian children were given an ultimatum to decide if they would relinquish guardianship of their children to bring them to Canada.
Unlike the Quebec woman, they decided not to surrender their kids.