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Woman back in Canada with young daughter after years in Syrian prison camps

Months-long struggle highlights plight of several Canadians held in Syrian camps by Kurdish forces
The Peace tower is seen in Ottawa, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. A Canadian woman who spent more than two years in Syrian prison camps is home from Iraq after fighting Ottawa to get an emergency travel document. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A Canadian woman who spent more than two years in Syrian prison camps is home from Iraq after fighting Ottawa to get an emergency travel document.

The woman’s lawyer, Paul Champ, says she arrived in Canada late Monday and was reunited with her five-year-old daughter and other family members.

The child, who was born in Syria, came to Canada earlier this year to live with her aunt.

The woman’s months-long struggle to make it home highlights the plight of several Canadians among the estimated thousands of foreign nationals held in Syrian camps by Kurdish forces that reclaimed the strife-torn region from the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Canadian Press is not identifying the woman, her daughter or their current location out of concern for their safety.

During the summer, the woman believed she was close to getting a travel document from Canadian authorities but when the process stalled she took her case to Federal Court.

“It was shameful that my client had to sue the Canadian government to force them to give her an emergency passport,” Champ said Tuesday.

“We still have no explanation why Canada left her stranded in Irbil, Iraq, a few blocks from the Canadian consulate that could have issued her an emergency passport at any time.”

The RCMP sent officers to Irbil to interview the woman in late October. The Mounties met the woman upon her arrival in Canada this week and have applied for a peace bond, which requires a person to abide by certain conditions, Champ said.

“I presume the RCMP sees a peace bond application as prudent in the circumstances given the nature of her travel, but I anticipate it won’t be maintained for long. There is no evidence she is a threat to anyone and there are no charges against her,” he said.

“What’s most important right now is that my client is safe with family, seeing her mother after almost eight years and her daughter after eight months.”

The woman was elated to see her young child, Champ said.

“It was a surprise for the little girl when her mother walked in the room. They hugged tightly and the girl kept stroking her mother’s face and hair and laughing. I don’t think she could believe it.”

The woman was born in Somalia, arrived in Canada with her family in 1993 and became a citizen in 2004. She grew up in Toronto and later moved to Vancouver.

In 2014, she left Canada for Turkey, soon travelling to Syria.

“Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had been manipulated into going to that country,” she said in an affidavit filed in Federal Court.

“While in Syria, there were several times that I tried to leave, but I was not allowed to do so. I was moved around numerous times. I was not allowed to speak to my family or friends. My phone was taken away. I was completely isolated from the outside world.”

She eventually made contact with Peter Galbraith, a retired American diplomat who was helping women and children get out of the camps.

Galbraith, in his own affidavit filed with the court, told of how he arranged first for the daughter’s release into the custody of the woman’s sister. A few months later, fearing for the woman’s safety, he persuaded officials to release her as well, and they headed straight to Irbil.

The woman provided extensive information to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about ISIL suspects and kidnapped American children, Galbraith said.

—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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