TORONTO — At least 25 “innocent” Canadian children are trapped in a refugee camp not far from where Turkey has launched a military offensive in northeastern Syria, an international charity said Thursday as it called on Ottawa to act now to rescue them.
Save the Children Canada, which has aid workers on the ground in Syria, said the kids are largely the offspring of Islamic State militants, and some of them are orphans, while others only have one parent.
“All children are innocent and punishing them where they were born or what circumstance they were born in is not our way,” said Bill Chambers, the group’s CEO.
“We believe they should be brought home and kept safe.”
The children are largely based in Al-Hawl, a refugee camp about 100 kilometres southeast of the border region where the Turkish incursion is underway.
Turkey launched an air and ground assault against Kurdish forces in northern Syria on Wednesday, just three days after President Donald Trump pulled U.S. troops from the area.
Chambers said other counties such as Belgium, Italy, Australia, Germany and Denmark have all repatriated children caught up in the long-running conflict.
He said the organization has been in touch with the offices of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale over the years, but the children remain in Syria.
Freeland on Wednesday condemned the Turkish incursion into Syria, saying the actions risked exacerbating the humanitarian problems that already exist there.
There are three main camps in northeastern Syria, Chambers said, but none have yet come under attack.
“The situation is only going to get worse and some of (the children) really need both physical and mental-health help,” Chambers said.
“They are traumatized and have lived a completely insecure life.”
The conditions in the camps are dire, he added.
“There’s no health care to speak of, there isn’t enough water, there’s malnutrition, what education there is is rudimentary and not something that will provide a future for anyone and that’s before any of this happened,” he said.
“It’s really a dreadful place to be a child. The worst.”