A Finnish minister has apologised for an Instagram post which asked readers whether children should be repatriated with their mothers from a Syrian camp housing Islamic State-linked people.
Newly appointed Finance Minister Katri Kulmuni tweeted “I apologise for the poll”. And she has now deleted it.
The poll, which asked people to vote either “children only” or “children and mothers”, drew much criticism.
About 10 women and 30 children at the Kurdish-run al-Hol camp are Finnish.
Several Western governments have already repatriated some children from al-Hol and other camps in northern Syria holding foreigners linked to IS. Generally they are the families of IS jihadists killed, wounded or missing in the civil war.
But politicians are struggling over the issue: most recognise that young children are victims of war, but there are fears that many mothers are indoctrinated with violent jihadist ideology.
The nationalist Finns Party – in opposition, but the second-biggest party in parliament – opposes such repatriations.
Ms Kulmuni, 32, said: “I wanted to discuss this complex and difficult issue on social media. It failed and I apologise for it.”
She heads the Centre Party in a new coalition government led by women, which took office this week.
The Instagram post was tweeted by Helsinki-based Egan Richardson on Thursday.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has said children cannot be repatriated without their mothers because the Syrian Kurdish forces running the camps oppose separating them.
Finland’s interior ministry says 20 people who went to the conflict zones in Iraq and Syria from Finland have returned.
“It is estimated that ten Finnish adults and about 30 children are currently living in the al-Hol camp,” a ministry statement said.
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The Finnish government says it is trying to supply food and medicines to the Finnish citizens there, but is not actively helping any of them to return.
The new government – a five-party, centre-left coalition – is led by the world’s youngest prime minister: Sanna Marin, 34. MPs will question the government on the al-Hol issue on Tuesday.
Andrew Stroehlein, European media director at Human Rights Watch, voiced outrage over Ms Kulmuni’s poll.
“Seriously, #Finland?” he tweeted. “This is awful, if true. A state should respect the rights of its citizens in all cases… What’s next, public hangings based on the volume of stadium cheers?”