An orphaned five-year-old Canadian girl has been rescued after being stranded in a crowded Syrian refugee camp, CTV News has learned.
The girl, who is known publicly as Amira, is in the care of a consular official and is on her way to Canada to be with her uncle, the family’s lawyer confirmed to CTV National News’ Paul Workman.
“We are delighted by this news and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has made this possible,” Amira’s uncle, who goes by the name Ibrahim, said through the lawyer.
The news marks a shift in the federal government's previous position that it was too dangerous to assist Canadians stranded in Syria. Faced with a question as to whether his government would help the dozens more Canadians who remain stranded in the country, many of whom are children, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Amira's situation was unique.
"I think we have to recognize that this particular situation was an exceptional case of an orphan who no longer had any close family," he said at a news conference in Ottawa. "That was why we have worked very hard over the past months to bring her to Canada. Obviously, however this is a situation where we're trying to say as little as possible about it, to respect her, and her family's privacy as they adjust to being back in Canada."
Advocates recognized Amira's repatriation as a positive step, but condemned the government Monday for its continued inaction regarding the more than two dozen other Canadian children in Syria living in unsafe conditions. In a statement Monday, Save the Children CEO Bill Chambers said the charity had cared for Amira at the camp in northeast Syria, where recently eight young children died in just five days and where there are fears of a COVID-19 outbreak.
"While taking back one child is a start, the Canadian Government must take steps to repatriate the remaining children trapped in Syria and their families. These children have lived through horrific incidents and are the first victims of ISIS having lived under them for years," Chambers wrote in a statement.
"This news shows that it is possible for the Government of Canada to bring the children back home to allow them to recover in safety."
There are some 46 Canadians still "in life-threatening conditions" at Syrian camps for ISIS detainees, 26 of whom are children, according to Farida Deif, the Canada director of Human Rights Watch, who tweeted at government officials Monday.
"Their lives are on the line and you have the power to help them," wrote Deif in a tweet directed at Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne.
"All that's needed is the political will."
Earlier Monday, Champagne confirmed that the girl would be reunited with extended family and expressed a need to protect the child’s privacy. The statement echoed the family’s own wish for privacy, communicated by the lawyer, as Amira transitions into her new life in Canada.
“Global Affairs Canada has been actively engaged in this case since first learning of the child’s exceptional circumstances,” the statement said. “The focus is now on protecting the child’s privacy and ensuring that the child receives the support and care needed to begin a new life here in Canada.”
The girl was found on the side of a road last year after her mother, father and three siblings were killed in the last battle to destroy ISIS. Since then, her uncle has campaigned to have Amira repatriated. At one point, he travelled to Syria to visit her and prove her identity.
Earlier this year, the family filed an application in Federal Court to put further pressure on the government, arguing that the feds had failed to provide Amira emergency travel documents and complete the proper protocols with the Syrian government in order to repatriate the girl.
Great news. But the focus should also be the plight of the 46 Cdns incl. 26 kids who remain in life-threatening conditions in NE #Syria. Their lives are on the line and you have the power to help them. All that's needed is the political will. @lettatayler @skayyali1 @jobeckerhrw https://t.co/GC9busfTG8— Farida Deif (@FaridaDeif) October 5, 2020
I am pleased that the Canadian child orphaned in #Syria will soon be united with extended family in ����.
The focus is now on protecting the child's privacy and ensuring that the child receives the support & care needed to begin a new life here in ����. pic.twitter.com/VQmmIXiq3j