Canada will repatriate twenty-three citizens who have been detained in northeast Syria in camps for family members of Islamic State group fighters, officials and a lawyer said Friday.
It would be the largest such repatriation of IS family members yet for Canada, and it comes after the families challenged the government in court, arguing Ottawa was obliged to repatriate the group under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Earlier Friday, the foreign ministry announced its decision to repatriate six Canadian women and 13 infants. And a court later ruled that four men seeking repatriation as part of the group must also be sent back to Canada, said lawyer Barbara Jackman, who is representing one of the men.
"I've spoken to the parents and they're really, really happy," Jackman said of the court decision, adding that the judge requested that the men be repatriated "as soon as reasonably possible."
The foreign ministry said in a statement: "The safety and security of Canadians is our government's top priority.
"We continue to evaluate the provision of extraordinary assistance on a case by case basis, including repatriation to Canada, in line with the policy framework adopted in 2021," it said.
Up until now the government of Justin Trudeau has treated the detained IS families on a case-by-case basis, and in four years only a handful of women and children have been repatriated.
Since the destruction of the so-called Islamic State "caliphate" across Syria and Iraq in 2019, more than 42,400 foreign adults and children with alleged ties to the Islamic State group have been held in camps in Syria, according to Human Rights Watch.
Repatriating them is a highly sensitive issue for many countries, but rights groups have denounced their reluctance to bring back their own nationals from the camps, controlled mostly by Syrian Kurds.
Human Rights Watch said around 30 Canadian citizens, including 10 infants, remain in the camps.
Farida Deif, the group's head in Canada, said that Global Affairs Canada has informed a number of them by letter that they fulfill the requirements for repatriation.
However, she said, "none of the men have been notified of anything or have been part of any agreements thus far."
The authorities did not say when the 19 would come to Canada or whether any of them would face legal proceedings for their association with Islamic State.
Last October Canada brought back two women and two children from Syria.
In 2020, Ottawa allowed the return of a five year old orphan girl from Syria after her uncle initiated a legal action against the Canadian government.