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Ottawa to allow return of Canadian who spent years in Syrian prison camps

Woman said she has no identity documents, little cash, and feared for her safety

The lawyer for a Canadian woman who spent two years in Syrian prison camps said Friday he’s trying to help get her home from Iraq after Ottawa agreed to give her an emergency travel document.

Lawyer Paul Champ said he is working with Global Affairs Canada to get authorization from Kurdish officials in northern Iraq for her departure and to identify an appropriate flight.

In a letter Thursday to Champ, a Justice Canada official said the Immigration Department had authorized the issuance of a travel document for the woman, who cannot be publicly named due to a judge’s confidentiality order.

Global Affairs Canada will provide the woman “a viable itinerary option for her travel to Canada,” the Justice letter said.

“It is the individual’s responsibility to purchase an air ticket, at personal expense, and to provide the confirmed itinerary to GAC, noting that it will be important that your client wait for GAC confirmation of the specific date of travel prior to purchasing an air ticket.”

The development comes after the woman asked the Federal Court to compel Ottawa to give her an emergency document so she could return home.

In her court application, the woman said she has no identity documents, little cash, and feared for her safety living in an Irbil hotel with an expired visa.

The woman’s effort to return home underscores the plight of several Canadians among the estimated thousands of foreign nationals held in Syrian camps by Kurdish forces that wrested back the war-torn region from the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The woman’s young daughter, who was born in Syria, came to Canada earlier this year to live with her aunt.

During the summer, the woman believed she was close to getting a travel document from Canadian authorities, enabling her to fly home to her five-year-old child.

Instead, RCMP officers turned up in Iraq late last month and interviewed her for several hours over the course of two days, she said in an affidavit filed with the court.

The woman was born in Somalia, arrived in Canada with her family in 1993 and became a citizen in 2004. She grew up in Toronto and later moved to Vancouver.

In 2014, she left Canada for Turkey, soon travelling to Syria.

“Shortly thereafter, I realized that I had been manipulated into going to that country,” her affidavit says.

“While in Syria, there were several times that I tried to leave, but I was not allowed to do so. I was moved around numerous times. I was not allowed to speak to my family or friends. My phone was taken away. I was completely isolated from the outside world.”

In the letter to Champ, justice officials said Canada has contacted local authorities in support of the woman’s continued safety in Irbil and they “are well aware of the importance Canada places on her well-being.”

—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press