Finland’s new five-party coalition government is facing a fresh crisis over a plan to repatriate Finnish Jihadis.
The opposition Finns Party filed a no-confidence motion on Wednesday, rallying the support of the Christian Democrats, the National Coalition Party (NCP), and the sole MP of the Movement Now (Liike nyt).
The leader of the Finns Party, Jussi Halla-aho, told the press on Wednesday that Finland is under no obligation to aid the women and children of IS fighters, beginning the question of whether foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has been transparent over the government’s intentions.
Haavisto denied the existence of a foreign ministry plan.
But according to officials documents dated November 21 revealed by the public news agency Yle, there was indeed a plan to repatriate all Finnish nationals from the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.
The plan creates a broader problem for the Finnish government. First, it was signed by the police commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen, who has previously denied the existence of a repatriation plan. Secondly, over and beyond the coordinating role of the foreign ministry, the plan’s development required liaisons from the Interior Ministry, Social Affairs and Health, and the Ministry of Defense. Therefore, there is little scope in limiting political responsibility to one person or one party.
The plan entailed chartering a flight from the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq, Erbil, to Helsinki. The plane would fly in “all individuals who agreed to repatriation”, but it is unclear whether than includes men or only women and children. Once in Finland, police authorities would take the lead.
Haavisto now argues that the existence of a plan could not be disclosed because children could be hidden in the camps to avoid repatriation. He also argued that the mothers could not be considered guilty merely because they travelled to the region.
According to Helsingin Sanomat, the focus is on 11 women and children under the age of six, many of whom were born in Syria. These women are under the custody of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
The newly elected prime minister Sanna Marin said on Wednesday morning that she had no prior knowledge of such a plan but that Haavisto’s endorsement meant there was “implicit approval.” On Thursday, the government would not confirm whether the eleven women will be repatriated. Last summer, former prime minister Antti Rinne had openly committed to the return of Finnish nationals.
In an open letter published by Helsingin Sanomat piece, President Sauli Niinistö called on the new government to make a clear political decision on the matter of repatriation.