Fate of Australian women and children in Syrian refugee camps to be decided in Federal Court

The fate of 33 women and children who have been held for four years in a refugee camp in northern Syria is set to begin in Australia’s Federal Court.

The legal action, led by non-profit group Save the Children Australia, will argue the Australian Government has the “moral and legal obligation” to repatriate them to Australia.

The group, consisting of the wives, widows and children of Islamic State fighters, have been languishing in the Al-Roj camp in Northeast Syria, with the conditions described as lacking many basic necessities such as healthcare, education and nutrition.

It will be argued their detention by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and its military wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is unlawful.

“Many of the children were born in the camps, and many of the women travelled to Syria when they themselves were children,” the case will allege according to court documents.

“None have been charged with any crime.”

Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler said the families had waited more than four years to be repatriated, before turning to the legal system as a last resort.

“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,” he said.
“Save the Children Australia is supporting these innocent Australian children and turning to the courts because they have been abandoned by their own government.”

The trial is set to begin before Justice Mark Moshinsky on Tuesday after the legal action was launched earlier this year.

In a response, filed in the Federal Court in July this year, the Australian Government will argue it is not responsible for the remaining Australian women and children going to Syria or becoming detained.

“The fact that the Commonwealth has been permitted by the AANES, in its absolute discretion, to repatriate Australian women and children in the past does not mean that the Commonwealth had then or has now any control over the detention of anyone in camps,” the response reads.

“That was not an ongoing arrangement, and those repatriations were permitted at the absolute discretion of the AANES.”

Three women and five children have joined the case since the legal fight was first launched in June.

Eight Children were repatriated to Australia in 2019 and, in October last year, 13 more children and four women were returned.

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