Officials in Denmark are deliberating whether a traumatised four-year-old Danish girl trapped in a Syrian prison camp after her mother fled the country to join ISIS in 2014 should be allowed to return home.
The case has divided Denmark’s increasingly anti-immigrant political sphere, with both the ruling left-wing Social Democrats and the populist right-wing Danish People’s Party arguing that letting the girl and her mother into the country poses a risk to national security.
“These are people who have chosen to turn their backs on Denmark and instead fight for an Islamic caliphate,” Rasmus Stoklund, Foreign Affairs Spokesperson for the Social Democrats, told online newspaper Netavisen Pio. “They have chosen that the future of them and their families should be in the Middle East and not in Denmark.”
Meanwhile, the four-year-old girl – who is currently living in the Kurdish-run al-Roj camp in northeastern Syria with her mother and brother – has been diagnosed with extreme post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) in a report from three medical experts commissioned by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and seen by National Broadcaster DR. The experts also say that removing the girl from her mother would only further traumatise her.
“[She] stereotypically smiles without eye contact,” the experts reportedly write. “The smile is forced. She acts vigilant with everything in the room and constantly keeps an eye on her mother.”
If she stays in the camp, they said, she will develop permanent mental disorders. They recommended she leave immediately.
For Knud Foldschack, a lawyer representing the girl, and Natascha Ree Mikkelsen, founder of Repatriate The Children Denmark, the fact that repatriating her remains controversial is a tragic indictment of the country’s political system. They’ve been working together to repatriate both her and the dozens of other Danish children who remain trapped in Syria, and have travelled to the camps themselves.
“It’s really sad,” Mikkelsen told VICE World News over the phone. “It’s terrible that you would risk the lives of small babies and children living in Syrian prison camps. Of course the only right thing is to bring them home and give them the treatment they need.”
“The Kurds have asked countries like Denmark to please take responsibility,” she added.
Ultimately, the decision of whether the girl and her family can return remains in the hand of the Danish Foreign Ministry, which so far has remained tight-lipped. In a phone call with VICE World News the Ministry said it does not comment on specific cases.
The discussion around repatriating the children of people who joined ISIS is not one particular to Denmark. The United Nations has estimated that there are 27,000 children with nationalities from all around the world in the al-Hol prison camp, for example, and called on member states to bring them home. Still, in European nations like Denmark and Belgium the prospect has remained politically unpopular in the wake of the rise of far-right xenophobic populism across the continent.
Despite the obvious humanitarian reasons to bring children out of a warzone, even national security forces recognise that leaving children like the four-year-old girl in question is probably not a very good idea.
“The Danish Police Intelligence Service has assessed that the children in the camps do not pose a security threat, but that the risk of radicalisation of the children is growing along the time they are spending in the camps,” Stinne Lyager Bech, Head of Policy at Amnesty International’s Danish section, wrote to VICE World News in an email. “They are innocent of whatever actions their families have been taking also if these are terrorist acts or could pose a security threat. Returned family members should be brought to court in Denmark if they are suspected for war crimes or terrorist acts or other forms of illegal conduct.”
For the time being, however, there is only uncertainty for the girl and other children who have found themselves trapped and often traumatised because of choices they never made and geopolitical forces far larger than them. With political willpower to repatriate them remains weak, lawyers like Foldschack are turning to the law instead.
“The Danish State has stated that in certain cases it will take home the Danish children and women,” he wrote in an email, “and with that I believe that the legal rights of this situation has been clarified, and gives the 4-year-old girl the right to repatriation and healing.”
“It is only political conditions that prevent a legitimate morally and ethically correct action on behalf of the Danish State,” he added.