The Australian government has resisted US pressure and announced that it will not repatriate the wives and children of Daesh fighters stranded in Syrian refugee camps, citing concerns over coronavirus and security.
Speaking in Washington at the main annual forum for consultations between Australia and the United States, AUSMIN, Foreign Minister Marise Payne refused to budge on her country's position on Australian citizens that left the country to join the Daesh militant group.
"We will not put our communities at home at risk, nor our officials abroad, to extract people from Syria under current conditions," she said, when questioned about the matter at the AUSMIN summit, pointing to the global pandemic.
"Movement in Syria and in the region is now more complex than ever and at home, we see our states and territories very stretched, as an understatement in some cases, because of the impact of COVID-19 infections," Payne explained.
The Australian government's hardened stance comes despite pressure from the US for countries to bring back and prosecute Daesh-linked nationals and their family members. Many European countries have also refused to repatriate their nationals who travelled to Syria to join Daesh and who are now being held captive by local authorities since Daesh lost its last territory in Syria in March last year.
As many as 67 Australian women and children are said to be living in camps such as Al-Hawl refugee camp in north-east Syria, with many stuck for years after the fall of Daesh. Save the Children Chief Executive Mat Tinkler urged the federal government to repatriate the families pointing to many governments that have already repatriated citizens, including France.
The British charity has warned for months about the danger of the "desolate" conditions in these camps, citing a lack of running water and limited health facilities. "There aren't any excuses left. The Australian government needs to bring these Australian children and their mothers home," Tinkler is reported saying.
"The alternative – leaving Aussie kids languishing in a war zone – is unthinkable."
Up to 70,000 people are believed to be stranded in the Al-Hawl camp, which has limited food, flooded tents, harsh winter conditions and poor healthcare, with illnesses rampant in the setting.