Islamic State-linked Australians held in Syria launch repatriation bid

Save the Children Australia aid group files case on behalf of nine women and 17 children languishing at Al-Hol and Roj camps in Kurdish-controlled region

Women walk in Roj detention camp in northeast Syria, February 9, 2022. (Baderkhan Ahmad/AP)
Women walk in Roj detention camp in northeast Syria, February 9, 2022. (Baderkhan Ahmad/AP)

SYDNEY, Australia — Groups of Australian women and children stranded in detention camps in Syria launched a joint legal bid on Monday to be repatriated.

The 17 children and nine women have spent years languishing in the Al-Hol and Roj camps in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria, following the 2019 collapse of the Islamic State group.

In many cases, the Australian citizens are the wives, sons and daughters of IS fighters, who forced their families to live in the jihadist group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

Aid group Save the Children Australia filed the case on behalf of the women and children, saying the government was “morally and legally” obliged to repatriate them.

“After spending four years living in hard conditions, this legal case was not the first choice of action by these Australian citizens in Syria,” STCA chief executive Matt Tinkler said.

“Every day these Australian children are left in Syria is another day their safety and wellbeing are at risk.”

In October last year, the Australian government repatriated four women and 13 children from the camps.

Tinkler said there were initially hopes more rescue missions would follow, but these had slowly faded in the face of government “inaction.”

“Australia’s unwillingness to bring the remaining children home is a source of international shame,” he said.

The Australia-based families of those still stuck in Syria said they had spent four years anxiously waiting to be reunited.

“The repatriations last October raised their hopes and ours,” they said in a joint statement. “It showed that the government could repatriate our family members, who are all Australian citizens, and we still hope that work will continue.”

“They are our loved ones. They are Australians. They are sick. They are in danger. We must bring them to safety now.”

The issue of repatriations has been a politically contentious one in Australia, where the conservative opposition party has repeatedly cited national security concerns when arguing against the returns.

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