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Australia leaving women, children to be 'unlawfully detained' in Syria camp: rights group

September 27, 2023 at 11:17 am

Wives and childern of former Daesh fighters line up in the foreign section of the al-Hawl refugee camp in northern Syria, waiting to be taken to the camp shops, April 2, 2019 [Kate Geraghty/Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images]

The repatriation of 11 wives and 20 children of Daesh fighters from a detention camp in northeast Syria to Australia is to be determined by a court ruling after the country’s Home Affairs Department decided against repatriating them.

Earlier this year, charity Save the Children Australia launched a legal fight arguing that the group’s detention is unlawful and raised questions about why successive federal governments have allowed some women and children to return and not others.

Yesterday the charity took legal action at the High Court in Melbourne to compel Canberra to bring the women and children home. It comes nearly a year after Australia repatriated a group from Syria – four women and 13 children, family members of slain Daesh members.

“The situation of the remaining persons detained is stark and dire,” said Peter Morrissey, counsel for the charity Save the Children, which is acting on their behalf.

“Save the Children Australia represents women and children charged with no crime, detained in piteous and appalling conditions,” he told the court. “Their health, safety and dignity are seriously compromised by any standard. Their detention in the camps has endured for several years.”

The detainees have been living in the Kurdish-controlled Al-Hawl and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria since Daesh’s territorial defeat in 2019. Earlier this year, several western countries, including France, Canada and the US, repatriated their citizens from Syria.

READ: US to repatriate family of 10 Americans from camps in Syria

Save the Children is asking the court for a writ of habeas corpus (or unlawful detention) requiring the government to bring the group home.

“Despite countless opportunities to repatriate these families, the Australian government has ultimately failed in its duty to bring all of its citizens home to safety,” said Save the Children Australia Chief Executive Mat Tinkler.

“We desperately hope these children and their mothers will be imminently repatriated home to safety. It is unfathomable that the Australian government has abandoned its citizens,” he said in a statement.

Tinkler also said, from his first-hand experience of visiting the camp that it is “one of the worst places in the world to be a child,” adding that “These people are living in the Syrian desert. The temperatures are extraordinary; the heat of the summer, the freezing cold of the winter.”

READ: Australian women in Syria detention camps take gov’t to court