Australian nationals consisting of women and children have been snatched and abducted from the Kurdish-run Al-Hawl refugee camp in north-east Syria, in what advocates have called a "deeply concerning" incident.
During the middle of Saturday night, unidentified armed men reportedly arrived at the camp and handcuffed four women and ten children – all Australian nationals – before forcing them into a van and driving away.
The UK-based charity Save the Children expressed alarm over the abductions, with its Australia Director Mat Tinkler saying that the witness accounts of the incident are "deeply concerning". Tinkler told the Australian news broadcaster SBS News: "We have got really grave concerns for the fate of those…that have been caught up in what's been reported as a snatching from the camps."
Due to the abductors being unidentified and not yet known to be affiliated with any group, he said: "We don't know their whereabouts at the moment so we certainly have grave fears for their well being."
The infamous Al-Hawl camp is one of many that are being controlled and guarded by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People's Protection Units (YPG) militias, and hold tens of thousands of family members of former Daesh fighters.
Many of those held at the camps are citizens of foreign nations who fled to Syria from their home countries to join the terror group or who were born within Syria to those foreign parents. In the Al-Hawl camp itself, which holds almost 70,000 refugees, there are approximately 20 Australian women and 47 children.
Tinkler added that, although the motives pf the abductors remain unknown, he believes that it could have been authorised by those Kurdish militias and that it "may indicate hopefully they are being transferred elsewhere".
A spokesman for the Australian government also released a statement assuring that it is closely monitoring the situation. He said, however, that the prospect of returning Australian nationals home does not seem likely as "Our ability to provide consular assistance and passport assistance to Australians in both Syria and Iraq remains extremely limited due to the exceptionally dangerous security situation."
Despite calls by human rights organisations and the US for Western nations to repatriate their citizens and put them on trial back in their home countries, many have refused or been reluctant to do so, citing the alleged security risk they would pose.
In June last year, however, Australia repatriated eight orphans of deceased Australian Daesh fighters from Syria, in an apparent U-turn on a government decision that Prime Minister Scott Morrison said was because "children should not be punished for the crimes of their parents".