Al-Hol camp causes government turmoil

After months of circling around the issue, the Finnish government finally made a political decision on how to deal with some 40 Finnish citizens in the Al-Hol refugee camp. Some 11,000 foreign women and children are being held at the camp in Syria, most of them family members of Isis fighters.

The aim is to repatriate the children as quickly as possible, while the status of the mothers in the Syrian camp will be left to public officials to decide. However, the case has caused severe turmoil within the Finnish government.

The lack of a common EU stance on this issue has caused havoc across the political spectrum in Finland and in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. President Sauli Niinistö’s irritation has been thinly veiled.

It has also marred Sanna Marin’s honeymoon period as Prime Minister. In Brussels, she was forced to apologise for her spokeswoman, who prevented journalists’ from asking questions. Then, Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni went out to social media with a poll on how to proceed with the issue. The result: a furious response from the Human Rights Watch and embarrassment for the minister.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has faced fierce criticism over his handling of the case, but on Wednesday survived opposition censure. On the surface the government may appear unanimous. But, between and inside the parliamentary groups, the divisions are open. (Pekka Vanttinen, reporting from Finland)

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