Ottawa urged to take action on Syria ISIS camps’ ‘echoes’ of Guantanamo Bay

A Canadian civil society delegation working with Sen. Kim Pate is urging Ottawa to take action over detainees in northeast Syria whose experience “echoes” that of those in Guantanamo Bay after Sept. 11, 2001.

The delegation presented a report in Ottawa on Thursday after returning from a visit to the region that is home to camps filled with accused members and family members of Islamic State group militants.

The group rose to power amid an uprising-turned-civil war that erupted 12 years ago and has left hundreds of thousands of dead. At one point, the militants controlled large swaths of Syria and Iraq, but Kurdish forces backed by an international anti-IS coalition, as well as Iraqi and Syrian government troops, recaptured that territory by 2019.


Click to play video: 'Trudeau won’t comment on return to Canada of women caught in Syria during fight with ISIS'


Trudeau won’t comment on return to Canada of women caught in Syria during fight with ISIS


Tens of thousands of others remain left behind in detention centres — including Canadians who left to fight for the Islamic State and children they had while there — with no immediate sign of getting out.

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“They languish, warehoused with thousands of other foreign nationals in detention centres across the region held beyond the reach of law, far from outside scrutiny in a detention regime that is devoid of any sense of accountability and in which human rights violations are unsurprisingly rampant,” said delegation member Alex Neve, a senior fellow with the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.

“It has echoes of the widespread abuses we witnessed following Sept. 11. We found ourselves thinking of Guantanamo Bay, black-hole detention sites … and wondering how we could possibly be back in that same space again.”


Click to play video: 'Questions over Ottawa’s policy after Canadians who joined ISIS repatriated'


Questions over Ottawa’s policy after Canadians who joined ISIS repatriated


The group said it was aware of nine Canadian men being held in detention centres on allegations of working with ISIS, and spoke to two of them. The delegation said the Canadians have been detained for many years without charge or trial, without contact or communication with their families, without access to lawyers, and without receiving consular visits.

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U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba became notorious following the Sept. 11 terror attacks due to allegations of torture of prisoners by the U.S. military and intelligence actors, and their denial of protection under the Geneva Convention.

Nothing in my working life prepared me for the experience I would have over the last week. Canada prides itself on being a human rights leader and has prided itself on being an international human rights leader,” Pate said.

“What we saw was Canada not being at the forefront of both fulfilling its obligations or participating with the international community to ensure that human rights are upheld in the region of northeast Syria, where the Canadians we met with are detained.”


Click to play video: 'Canadians released from camp of ISIS detainees in Syria'


Canadians released from camp of ISIS detainees in Syria


The group said none of the Canadian prisoners have received any in-person consular visits.

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“There are significant health concerns of individuals who are there,” Pate said.

The delegation called on Ottawa to begin providing full consular support, including in-person visits, to all Canadians detained in camps and prisons in northeast Syria.

Furthermore, it’s asking the government to engage with officials of the Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) to repatriate all Canadians detained in camps and prisons in northeast Syria, who wish to return to Canada.


Click to play video: 'Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo'


Canadian ISIS fighters detained in Syria left in legal limbo


“We saw human rights violations in large part because of the absolute incapacity of AANES to keep up with the needs of the 4,000 to 5,000 prisoners who are currently being detained,” Pate said.

Ottawa has repatriated some women and children from the camps, but has not brought any men back. The federal government has arrested and sought peace bonds against some of the women.

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Those asks aside, the delegation called on Ottawa to issue temporary residence permits for non-Canadian mothers and siblings of children born to Canadian citizens, and being held in the camps.

Children born outside of Canada to a Canadian citizen may be Canadian citizens, but must submit applications for a Canadian citizenship certificate to the federal government to be formalized as citizens.

“Not all children born outside of Canada to Canadian citizens are entitled to Canadian citizenship,” the government’s citizenship website states.


Click to play video: 'Orphaned girl from ISIS camp in Syria handed over to Canadian delegation'


Orphaned girl from ISIS camp in Syria handed over to Canadian delegation


The delegation added Ottawa must help provide resources, technical assistance and all other necessary support to strengthen the justice response in northeast Syria, and in collaboration with the international community, and AANES, substantially increase support for meeting the humanitarian needs of the people in northeast Syria, including, but not limited to, such areas as infrastructure, healthcare, education, and food and water.

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“All of this must change immediately, and we will continue to work on the ground and with our colleagues in the government to actually try to change this,” Pate said.

— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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