President has to clarify al-Hol refugee position

The government will face a debate and vote in parliament this week on their handling of the issue, while President Niinistö comments may have muddied the waters.

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File picture of President Niinistö / Credit: Roni Rekomaa, TPK

President Sauli Niinistö has issued a statement clarifying his position on Isis-linked Finnish women and their children at al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.

In recent days Niinistö has given comments to journalists and written on social media about the situation, which could appear to be encroaching on domestic politics – an area where the president has no remit to get involved.

It appears that his interventions may have muddied the waters on the subject, because in a Sunday statement he writes that “the question is such a central instrument of domestic politics that the President cannot and must not try to influence it.”

While responsibility for consular affairs – helping Finns in distress abroad – falls to the government, national security is part of the president’s policy portfolio so there are overlapping areas when it comes to Finns in Syria.

The president says he cannot support the government policy because so far there is no actual government policy on the subject. “There is no policy, the government will only form on in the coming days […] the situation is multidimensional and the government has clearly begun to consider the matter as required” Niinistö adds.

Government coalition divided on al-Hol Finns

The government has appeared divided on the issue of what to do with some 30 women and 10 children at the Kurdish-run camp in Syria. The women are, or were, married to Isis fighters. Some of those men will now be in custody, but many are likely to be dead.

The split within the government is how to, or even whether to, bring the women and children back to Finland – although Kurdish authorities won’t let children leave without their mothers.

While some parties and politicians in government advocate acting on welfare grounds to bring the women and children back, the Centre Party in particular has taken a tougher line.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) will face a debate in parliament about the al-Hol Finns on Tuesday, with a vote on the government’s handling of the issue set to take place on Wednesday.

President Niinistö notes that other Nordic countries “have so far done far more than Finland, taking orphans and sick children out of the camp” even in the face of strong opposition to helping others in the camps.

The president says that Finland cannot get into a situation where security risks are taken less seriously than in neighbouring countries when it comes to the al-Hol camp residents.