Canadian orphan in Syrian camp set free, will come to Canada

A five-year-old Canadian girl stuck inside Syria after her family was killed in an airstrike is on her way to Canada.

Her family in Toronto says they were told Sunday that the child, known as Amira, was in the care of a Canadian consular official.

Amira was found on the side of the road last year and was taken to a refugee camp in a region of Syria controlled by Kurdish-led forces. Led by the girl’s uncle, the family has been trying to get her to Canada since.

“We are delighted by this news and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has made this possible,” they said in a statement Monday.

“We would kindly request privacy as my niece transitions into her new life in Canada.”

Frustrated by perceived inaction on the part of Canadian officials and worried for Amira’s safety, her family filed a lawsuit against the government in July seeking to force it to repatriate her.

The family had argued the federal government was violating her rights by refusing to provide emergency travel documents, and by failing to make the necessary official requests of the regional Syrian government to get her repatriated.

The Liberal government had said that a lack of Canadian consular services in Syria made helping her very difficult, but in a statement Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said his department has been actively engaged in the case.

He said he was pleased the child will soon be united with family, and thanked the military and Defence Department for their assistance.

“The focus is now on protecting the child’s privacy and ensuring that the child receives the support and care needed to begin a new life here in Canada,” Champagne said.

Repatriation a ‘breakthrough’: family’s lawyer

Amira was one of dozens of Canadians, including many children, who are among thousands of foreign nationals at the Al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria.

The facility is home to both refugees from the Syrian civil war but also those detained under suspicion of having ties to Islamic State fighters; Amira’s parents were Canadians believed to have fought for ISIL.

When asked about the repatriation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t offer more details today but said this is an “exceptional case” of an orphan who no longer had any close family.

WATCH | Trudeau responds to a reporter’s question on an orphaned Canadian’s repatriation from Syria: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses reporters about the federal government’s decision to bring a five-year-old Canadian orphan stranded in Syria, back home to Canada. 0:30

Human rights advocates and others have urged governments to repatriate their citizens, especially children, and rehabilitate them, rather than leaving them imprisoned overseas in unsafe conditions worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who represented Amira’s family, said her repatriation is a “breakthrough.”

“It also gives hope to the families of the other 46 Canadians being held in northeastern Syria,” he said.

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