Mother of Canadian girl freed from ISIS detention camp in Syria released


A Canadian woman being held in an ISIS detention camp in northeast Syria has been released with the help of the former U.S. diplomat who helped get her four-year-old daughter out of the camp and to relatives in Canada earlier this year. 

“I can confirm that it’s true and that, yes, I brought her out,” Peter Galbraith told CBC News. “It was a strictly private initiative.”

Galbraith is known to have good relations with Global Affairs Canada and also has strong relations with the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds.

Sources say the woman arrived in Erbil in neighbouring northern Iraq over the weekend after being released from the Al Roj camp, near Syria’s borders with Turkey and Iraq.

The camp houses more than 700 families of suspected ISIS militants and is under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which are running what’s known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

The woman was one of about 30 Canadians, the majority of them children, being held in the camp and is believed to be the first Canadian adult to leave.

Global Affairs said in a statement that it was aware that a Canadian citizen had crossed from Syria into Iraq.  

“The government of Canada was not involved in securing the individual’s exit from northeastern Syria,” spokesperson Patricia Skinner said in an en emailed response to CBC News. She said the Privacy Act prevents the release of any additional information.

A blurred photo of the woman’s four-year-old daughter, who was freed from the detention camp in March. The camp is under the official supervision of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which are running what’s known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. (Submitted by Human Rights Watch)

The woman’s release will raise questions about the potential impact on the other Canadian women and their children still languishing in the camp. Their families have been lobbying Ottawa to repatriate them. 

“This was a special case,” said Galbraith, “because [she] was one of a group of women who had very much broken with the dominant Islamic State ideology in the camps, wearing Western clothes and rejecting it, so she was at risk.”

He also said she’d been instrumental in helping officials locate a missing Yazidi child in one of the camps. 

Says she was naive when she left Canada for Syria

When CBC News met and interviewed the woman in March, who was 30 at the time, she said she had already been threatened by women in the camp still loyal to ISIS.

At the time, she described herself to CBC News as being naive when she left Canada at the age of 23 and easily led by others. She said she was a housewife, not a militant, and that she knew she’d made a mistake as soon as she’d crossed the border into the so-called caliphate. 

Ottawa has always maintained that conditions in northeast Syria are too dangerous for consular officials to visit but that if a Canadian were to present themselves at an embassy, they would be obliged to assist. 

Detainees include Syrians, Iraqis and women from a number of other countries, including about 30 Canadians, the majority of them young children, according to a camp manager interviewed by CBC in March. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

When the Canadian woman’s daughter was released from the camp in March, Global Affairs Canada issued a statement that it was not involved in securing the child’s exit from northeastern Syria.  

“The government of Canada provided consular assistance to facilitate the child’s travel from Iraq to Canada,” it said. 

It’s not clear what procedures are in place for the repatriation of a Canadian citizen accused of the crime of belonging to a group on Canada’s list of terrorist entities.  

WATCH | Women describe life in Al Roj detention camp:

As word spreads in the al-Roj Syrian detention camp for families of ISIS fighters that a four-year-old Canadian girl was freed, other mothers grapple with sending their own children to safety. Some say they couldn’t survive without them, while others beg Canada to bring them to safety. 2:10

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