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Canadian orphan 'on her way home' from Syria's al-Hol camp

Five-year-old Amira is being repatriated after a year and a half spent in camp for detainees suspected of having links to Islamic State group
The Kurdish authorities running the al-Hol camp announced it would be removing all Syrians from the camp (AFP)

Amira, a five-year-old Canadian orphan who had been trapped in a Syrian refugee camp for people suspected of links to the Islamic State group, is being repatriated to Canada and is on her way to the country, her family's lawyer has confirmed.

"Yesterday we received confirmation from Global Affairs Canada that Amira was on her way home to Canada in the care of a Canadian consular official," Lawrence Greenspon, the lawyer for Amira's family, said in an emailed statement to Middle East Eye.

'We are delighted by this news and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has made this possible'

- Amira's uncle

"This is a wonderful breakthrough for Amira and her family. It also gives hope to the families of the other 46 Canadians being held in northeastern Syria," he added.

The lone survivor of a family of six that was accused of joining IS, Amira was sent to the al-Hol refugee camp in eastern Syria after her parents and three siblings were killed in an air strike in the town of Baghuz, where many IS fighters made a final stand against the Kurdish-led offensive that ended the armed group's territorial control of the region.

"We are delighted by this news and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has made this possible. We would kindly request privacy as my niece transitions into her new life in Canada," Amira's uncle said about her repatriation.

In July, the orphaned child's family in Canada filed a lawsuit against the country's government, arguing that Ottawa had failed to provide Amira with the necessary emergency travel documents in order to secure her release and return.

Dozens of Canadians trapped in Syria

UN experts, as well as rights groups, have for months called on the Canadian government to secure the release of and repatriate Amira, adding that the country had failed to repatriate dozens of its citizens.

More than 40 Canadian nationals are stuck in Syria in similar conditions, and Human Rights Watch in June highlighted the cases of these individuals, reporting that Canada "appears to be withholding effective consular assistance to the detainees" based on their suspected links to IS.

Kurdish authorities to remove Syrians from overcrowded al-Hol camp, leaving foreigners
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Alexandra Bain, director of Families Against Violent Extremism, said that the repatriation of Amira shows that Ottawa has the capacity to secure the release of its citizens and bring them back home.

"This first Canadian orphan is a start. It has taken one and a half years of constant struggle for her family, our organisation and countless human rights organisations and lawyers in Canada and around the world to get her home," Bain told MEE.

"Do the other Canadians deserve less? There are 26-plus other Canadian children in the camps. Some have been placed for months in prison with their moms," she said.

"This is not right! Canada has shown it can do it, and must bring all Canadians home now, before it is too late."

HRW also urged Canada to take responsibility for its other citizens still held in Syria. 

"The lives of 46 other Canadians, including 25 children, remain on the line," said Farida Deif, HRW's director in Canada.

"The government should stop turning a blind eye to their detention in overcrowded facilities under life-threatening conditions."

But Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, described the repatriation as an "exceptional case" and said: "We have no plans to do that for others." 

Kurds remove Syrians from al-Hol camp

The repatriation of Amira comes at the same time the Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, which runs the al-Hol camp, announced that it would be removing all Syrians from the camp and it would also be relinquishing any and all authority over the foreign nationals that were placed there.

Western countries have been urged by the Kurdish authorities, as well as by the United States which spearheaded the international coalition against IS, to take responsibility for their own citizens being held in the region.

Last week, Washington said it repatriated the last of 27 Americans known to be in Syrian custody and charged four men with supporting the group. Italy also charged a woman who was repatriated from Syria with her three children.

Still, many western countries, including Canada, have been largely reluctant to repatriate their own nationals.