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At least 2 Canadian women and their children returning from ISIS detention camp

At least two Canadian women have left a detention center in Syria and will arrive in Canada Wednesday morning, CBC News has learned.

The women left the al-Roj camp in northeastern Syria — where ISIS fighters and their family members are being held — and made their way to northern Iraq with an unknown number of children on Tuesday morning, according to multiple sources.

The expectation is that the women and children will be repatriated to Canada, the sources said.

Ottawa attorney Lawrence Greenspon said he learned Canadian Kimberly Polman, his client, left the camp and her tent was taken down. Greenspon said Global Affairs Canada told him she is expected to arrive in Montreal on Wednesday.

“This is very good news,” said Greenspon. “It shows Canada’s … ability to bring home our detained Canadian nationals.”

WATCH: Justin Trudeau on repatriating Canadian women and children from Syria

Trudeau speaks about repatriation of two Canadian women and their children from ISIS detention center

At least two Canadian women have escaped from a detention center in Syria where ISIS fighters and their families are being held. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is monitoring the situation.

Greenspon is representing 23 Canadian men, women and children being held in ISIS detention camps in northeastern Syria. He’s been urging federal court to bring her home.

He said he was “sure” the Canadian government would allow Polman to return home due to health concerns.

“She has been in the detention center for over three years,” Greenspon said. “Your health is very bad. She is in a very tense health situation.”

The repatriation effort comes eight months after United Nations human rights experts urged Canada to bring Polman back, saying their conditions met the definition of “torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The UN experts said Polman traveled to Syria in 2015. Polman, who appears in the documentary “The Return: Life After ISIS,said she was in a “horrible place” when she was found online by the ISIS member who later became her husband.

Her sister told CBC News last year that Polman’s “basic human rights are not being respected.” She said her sister had “at least a right to a fair trial or charge” before she was jailed.

CLOCK / Canadian Kimberly Polman explains why she joined ISIS

Canadian Kimberly Polman explains why she joined ISIS: The Return: Life After ISIS

As Kimberly Polman’s children grew up, she was alone. She met an ISIS member online and he said, “Come where you are really loved, where you are really needed.”

Canada takes the position that for security reasons it would not send consular assistance to meet these women, although a number of other western countries have done so.

Greenspon’s application to the federal court states that the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria (AANES) has agreed that AANES will do so if the Canadian government makes an official request for repatriation.

Greenspon said he was trying to get the Canadian government to proceed with this official request. The Federal Court of Justice has now adjourned the hearing in this matter to December; They were supposed to take place on November 2nd and 3rd.

He said if there was enough evidence to prosecute any of the Canadian male detainees, they should be taken home for trial.

“They sit there and rot in prison,” he said. “They are Canadian, they have not been charged with anything. And yet, [the government] seems all right to let them rot over there.

Minister says supporting a terrorist group is a criminal offence

The Canadian government’s involvement in these ongoing repatriation efforts is not clear. CBC News has asked the federal government what role it is playing in repatriation efforts and whether it has issued emergency passports.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that his government “of course knows that Canadians are being held in Syria and we spend a lot of time monitoring them with stakeholders and closely monitoring what’s going on.”

“We have protocols,” Trudeau said. “We pay particular attention to the well-being of children in this area, but as you know I do not comment on direct operations.”

CBC News asked Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino about the government’s involvement. “We’re not talking about an isolated case,” he replied.

“Supporting a terrorist group, whether here or abroad, is a serious criminal offence.

US diplomat Peter Galbraith helped rescue a 4-year-old Canadian girl in March 2021, urging Canada to bring back any children still stranded there.

Months later, the Canadian government issued an emergency passport to the 4-year-old’s mother so she could return to Canada and see her daughter again.

The government helped repatriate a five-year-old Canadian orphan in 2020 after her family was killed in an airstrike. Greenspon filed a case in federal court earlier this year to bring the orphan to Canada to live with her family.

CLOCK / The Canadian mothers in an IS prison camp

The Canadian mothers in an IS prison camp

As news spreads that a four-year-old Canadian girl has been freed at Syria’s al-Roj detention center for families of ISIS fighters, other mothers struggle to keep their own children safe. Some say they could not survive without them, while others are pleading with Canada to keep them safe.

Human Rights Watch estimates that to date, about four dozen Canadian men, women and children – most of them under the age of six – have been held in detention camps in Syria.

Many lived in al-Roj and al-Hol, where hundreds of adults and children have died from fighting in the area or from a lack of medical care or unsanitary conditions, the group said.

Farida Deif, Canadian director of Human Rights Watch, said the Kurdish forces running the camps have asked governments around the world to turn back their citizens because they lack the resources to continue detaining them.

The Canadian government has “really not lifted a finger” to provide consular assistance to repatriate Canadians detained in Syria. She said Ottawa took a piecemeal approach that resulted in small numbers of Canadians being brought home.

“This is certainly not a viable solution to the unlawful detention of dozens of Canadian men, women and children,” Deif said.

A Syrian detention center in 2021. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Deif said Canada is increasingly an outlier among Western countries that have already moved to sending their citizens back to be prosecuted at home.

France last week repatriated 40 children and 15 women from Kurdish-run camps in northeastern Syria. The Australian government has announced that it will bring back Australian women and children of IS fighters from detention camps.

As of last year, Kazakhstan has repatriated more than 600 of its citizens, mostly women and children, along with some suspected ISIS fighters. Finland freed six children and two mothers last year.

The Belgian government plans to repatriate dozens of children and is considering taking in some women with children on a case-by-case basis.

Phil Gurski, who spent 15 years with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and wrote a book on the history of terrorism in Canada, said: “Those who joined ISIS knew what they were doing. The children didn’t know.”

“They need to be charged and the children need to be placed with extended family or in state care,” Gurski said. “We treat these women as victims. They are terrorists.”

Other terrorism experts have suggested that those in the camps could work to smuggle themselves out.

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